Salamanca is a town Northwest of Madrid and in the autonomous community of Castile and León. This city is about 2-3 hours by car or bus from Madrid. I really think visitors to Salamanca should spend one night in this historical city, so they can get a full appreciation of the city and its charm. I went on a day trip and regret not spending more time in Salamanca. I went on my second day tour through BeMadrid. I have enjoyed going on tours with this company because they have a private tour bus, the trips are reasonably priced, good tour guides with great knowledge and suggestions on things to do, bilingual tours, meet in Madrid, and more. If you are living in Madrid, I suggest you use this company to go on day trips. I fell in love with Salamanca’s history, buildings, and small town charm. I got to see different fascinating and historical structures like the University of Salamanca, Plaza Mayor, and the Cathedral of Salamanca. The University of Salamanca was founded in 1134. It is the oldest founded university in Spain and the fourth oldest European university in continuous operations. The formal title of “University” was granted by King Alfonso X in 1254 and was recognized by Pope Alexander IV in 1255 (Wiki). The history of this university dates back further than my altimatur back in Texas called Texas State University. I find history and old places fascinating. The university is famous for a carving of a frog and skull on the façade above the main entrance of the university. The façade the frog and skull are on was built during the 16th century. Also, looking for the frog and skull above the main entrance to the university is a popular thing with students and tourists. Many people will spend a few minutes searching the façade trying to find the famous carving. Most people are able to find the frog and skull. I saw the skull, but couldn’t make out the frog. The frog looked like a round ball on top to the skull. Students at the university a tradition that they follow. The students must spot the frog on the skull on the façade of the university or they will not be able to graduate as doctors. The façade was built during the 16th century. It took me a couple minutes to find the skull and make sense of the strange bump on the skull’s head. Spoiler Alert: The frog is on top of a skull, at the right side of the façade. If you visit this university, you will not regret your trip to see this place. I loved the façade and tried to study the whole piece. So much detail was placed on the façade. It’s worth spending 5 to 10 minutes admiring the craftsmanship and history of the façade.
Second place on my list is the Plaza Mayor of Salamanca. Construction of the plaza began in 1729 and was completed in 1755. The plaza was originally used for bullfighting till the mid-19th century. In modern Spain, the plaza is used as a place to gather for drinks and tapas, meet friends or family, or just sit down on the ground enjoying the day. It was built in the traditional Spanish baroque style and is a popular gathering area. The plaza has restaurants, ice cream shops, bars, shopping, a pharmacy, and city hall. It is considered the heart of Salamanca and is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful plazas in Spain. After the walking tour with the BeMadrid tour guide ended, I was closer to the cathedral of Salamanca and was mis-informed the cathedral closed at five. I had to see the bell tower. After my adventure at cathedral, I went to look for a place to eat lunch. I had a problem! Most of the restaurants I came across were done with serving lunch for the day. May I note that the BeMadrid walking tour cut into the traditional Spanish timeframe to have lunch. Instead of going to local restaurant, I had to settle for a tourist restaurant with images of the food and menus that used 4 different languages to explain what was served at the restaurant. Let it be! The plus to going to a tourist restaurant was the location in plaza where I sat. I enjoyed sitting outside soaking up some sun and eating my late lunch. Sitting outside was great because of the lovely spring weather. It was fun people watching and getting lunch in the plaza. I will say that the plaza is one of my favourite plazas in Spain.
My last favourite structure in Salamanca is the old/new cathedral. Salamanca has two cathedrals, the old and the new. The Old Cathedral was built in the 12th century with a Romanesque style . It is closed to the public and only opened during very special occasions. The New Cathedral is not exactly “new.” It was built between the 16th and 18th centuries with Gothic and Baroque styles. If you enjoy history and architecture, this cathedral should be on your list of things to do in Salamanca. There are many neat things to see and do at this cathedral: find the astronaut and the gargoyle eating ice cream or climbing the bell tower. May I note the bell tower does not close till 20h, So eat something and get some energy! I did not eat lunch before going up to the bell tower. The BeMadrid tour guide was mis-informed about the closing time of the cathedral bell tower, so after the private walking tour ended I rushed to get in line to see the bell tower. It’s a long hike up to the bell tower, but worth the 3 Euros you spend. I personal would not go inside the cathedral and drop 6 Euros. I have seen grander cathedrals in Sevilla, Segovia, and Barcelona. If you do the bell tower tour, you can see the inside of the cathedral for 3 Euros from above and get a bird’s eye view. To be honest I was not that impressed with the interior of the cathedral, but the exterior was so beautiful! There are some mysterious carvings on the cathedral’s wall. I was surprised about the carvings. At first I thought the carvings were from the past, but I did some research to understand more about the carvings. From doing research, I discovered that both astronaut and the gargoyle are details added by the craftsmen in charge of doing some restoration work on the Cathedral in 1992. According to Cultural Travel Guide’s website: “It seems it’s a regular practice of these workers to “sign” their works with some interesting details. Jerónimo García, chief restorer chose the astronaut as a symbol of the 20th century and it’s said that the gargoyle represents the students” (Cultural Travel Guide). I think it’s neat that the workers were allowed to leave carvings on the wall. It was fun trying to find these carvings on the cathedral’s wall.
Salamanca was fun. I enjoyed soaking up the history of this amazing town and some sun. If you plan on doing a nice weekend trip, I recommend you go to Salamanca because its a collage town with a young vibe, lots of history around, and beautiful buildings to admire. Go out west and check out Salamanca! Cheers!