You’ll know when you’ve arrived at Salamanca’s central honey-trap, the Universidad de Salamanca, also known as the Universidad Civil, by the milling tour groups, all straining their necks to examine the magnificent facade. It’s the ultimate expression of the Plateresque style, covered with medallions, heraldic emblems and floral decorations, amid which lurks a hidden frog said to bring good luck and marriage within the year to anyone who spots it unaided. The centre of the facade is occupied by a portrait of Isabel and Fernando, surrounded by a Greek inscription commemorating their devotion to the university. There are several sections to visit, though the fee paid at the main entrance covers just the tour of the main building’s lecture rooms and library.
Aula Fray Luís de León and Library
The university’s old lecture rooms are arranged around a courtyard. The Aula Fray Luís de León preserves the rugged original benches and the pulpit where this celebrated professor lectured. In 1573, the Inquisition muscled its way into the room and arrested Fray Luís for alleged subversion of the faith; five years of torture and imprisonment followed, but upon his release he calmly resumed his lecture with the words, “As we were saying yesterday…”
An elegant Plateresque stairway leads to the upper storey, where you’ll find the old university library, stuffed with thousands of antiquated books on wooden shelves and huge globes of the world. There’s a faded magnificence here, which gives some idea of Renaissance Salamanca’s academic splendour.
La Universidad de Salamanca
La Universidad de Salamanca
The Universidad de Salamanca was founded by Alfonso IX in 1218, and, after the union of Castile and León, became the most important in Spain. Its rise to international stature was phenomenal, and within thirty years Pope Alexander IV proclaimed it equal to the greatest universities of the day. As at Oxford, Paris and Bologna, theories formulated here were later accepted as fact throughout Europe. The university continued to flourish under the Reyes Católicos, and in the sixteenth century it was powerful enough to resist the orthodoxy of Felipe II’s Inquisition, but eventually, freedom of thought was stifled by the extreme clericalism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Books were banned for being a threat to the Catholic faith, and mathematics and medicine disappeared from the curriculum. During the Peninsular War, the French demolished 20 of the 25 colleges, and by the end of the nineteenth century there were no more than three hundred students (compared to 6500 in the late sixteenth century). The university saw a revival in the early part of the twentieth century, particularly under the rectorship of celebrated philosopher and man of letters Miguel de Unamuno. Today, numbers are higher than ever (around 30,000 students) and Salamanca Uni has a certain social cachet, though academically it ranks well behind Madrid, Barcelona and Seville. It does, however, run a highly successful language school – nowhere else in Spain will you find so many young foreigners.