Salamanca Tourist Attractions & Things to Do

Salamanca has many fascinating historic and cultural places of interest to keep you busy by day. And when you've exhausted the city's wealth of historic sites, the wider province of Salamanca offers unspoilt mountain villages, lush green valleys and nature reserves where lynxes and rare mountain goats roam wild.

Start with a visit to the famous University of Salamanca, one of the world's oldest and most illustrious academic centres, founded in 1218 by Alfonso IX shortly after the creation of the great universities of Paris and Bologna. The university developed over several centuries and now occupies most of the city's important historic buildings. One of its most impressive features is the grand entrance, carved by master sculptors in the 16th century under the direction of architects whose mission was to create a "doorway to heaven". The Catholic monarchs King Ferdinand and his Queen Isabella, who funded this incredible piece of artwork, are depicted in intricate details along with Venus, Hercules and various long-forgotten popes and cardinals. You can see a 16th century classroom and the huge and impressive library with 160,000 books (you can view it through a glass door but it's not open to visitors).

A major tourist attraction is the tiny frog which sits on a carved skull and lies hidden amid a myriad of other intricate carvings in the vault of the old university door off the Plaza de Fray Luis de Leon. It used to be said that the students who found the frog would pass their exams; the tradition has passed down through the centuries and today's more superstitious visitors play "spot the frog" in the belief that finding it will bring them good luck for a year. You'll see the frog on postcards in every local souvenir shop.


As you walk around the old town you'll notice the signs of another ancient tradition in the red marks which have been painted on the facades of many of the city's historic buildings. In the old days, when the students finished their exams, there would be a three-day celebration culminating in a bullfight. The student who killed the bull would mix its blood with oil and paint a sign with his name on one of the city's walls.

Other "must see" buildings include the two cathedrals - the original old cathedral which was started in 1140 and later overshadowed by the bigger and much more elaborate "new" cathedral which dates from 1530 but took 200 years to complete. Together the cathedrals present an awesome array of fantastic frescoes, intricately carved stonework, Gothic tombs and ornate chapels (one of which was used as an exam hall for the university students of medieval times).

Visit the lovely Casa de las Conchas (House of the Shells) - a 16th century mansion built by a Knight of the Order of Saint James who adorned the building with carved scallop shells (the order's sacred symbol). The Convento de San Esteban Gothic church is one of the city's most magnificent buildings and contains a high altar which is among Salamanca's greatest art treasures. Nearby is the Convento de las Dueñas - a former Moorish palace with beautiful 16th century cloisters and an upper gallery lavishly decorated with stone-carved dragons, demons, saints and sinners.

The city's Art Nouveau Art Deco Museum contains 1,500 exhibits spanning the late 19th century to the 1930s. They include bronze and marble figurines, jewellery, paintings, furniture and porcelain dolls.

If you're visiting at Easter you'll be able to see the famous "Lunes de Agua" festival which has taken place every year since medieval times. In the Middle Ages, the townspeople crossed the river in boats decorated with flowers to fetch back the prostitutes who had been banned from the city during Lent. Members of the oldest profession in the world don't get banished these days but this curious tradition is still religiously observed on Easter Monday.

 

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