After visiting Porto our travels took us south east to Salamanca, a beautifully stunning university city about 200 km’s from Madrid.
The city of Salamanca dates back to ancient times when it was inhabited by Celtic tribes and then invaded by Carthaginians, Alans, Visigoths, Romans, Moors, before it was taken back during the reconquest by the King of León.
The University of Salamanca was granted has royal charter in 1218 by the king and since then has developed into an important university city. It also has more than its fair share of cathedrals, churches, chapels, monasteries, and convents with about 26 or so in total around the centre of the city.
Salamanca is also one of the stops on the Spanish route of the Camino Santiago de Compostela (the way of St James). This route known as the Via de la Plata (the old Roman road) starts at Seville and passes through Caceres, Salamanca, and Zamora on its way north. Many hostels offer overnight accommodation to pilgrims on the camino. On our first night we met two pilgrims at our hostel slaking their thirst with a bottle of red wine after a tough day of walking. One had travelled from Germany and the other from Italy to walk the camino. After seeing the crowd of people walking the Camino de Fatima it’s interesting seeing so many different people out taking the spiritual journey.
Our first stop in Salamanca was the tourist information centre in La Plaza Mayor. The plaza is a massive square surrounded by buildings in Baroque style and is the true heart of the city. For travellers it contains the two most important features tourist office and McDonalds (free wifi and of course they also sell food). Around the edge of the plaza are a few hotels, hostels, banks, cafes and the plaza really is always humming with people coming and going. After picking up a map from the tourist office we checked the walking tour app and mapped out a route which would take in most of the important buildings around Salamanca.
One thing interesting about Salamanca is that it has two cathedrals, and the best part is they’re right next to each other. The entry to the Old Cathedral is via the New Cathedral entrance with entry costing €4:75, which comes with an audio guide. The old cathedral dates from the 12th century and is built in Romanesque style, with smaller arched windows, chunky columns, and lower ceilings. Inside the chapels attached to the cathedral and along the walls are frescoes dating back to the origins of the cathedral. The paintings on the walls give a simplistic view of the church that seems to have been pushed aside by later and greater “works of art” which adorn the new cathedral. Attached to the old cathedral are charter houses and cloisters dating back to pre 16th century.
The New Cathedral is of course much larger and was built to accommodate the growing number of parishioners. It was built between the 16th – 18th century in Gothic and Baroque style. The huge tree style columns in classic gothic styling to blend with the old Romanesque styling in the old cathedral, but with baroque cupola and bell tower. Around the edges of the New Cathedral are various chapels to the different saints which is quite typical of Spain. In the centre are the huge choir section with the pipes of the organ pointing out like heralds trumpets. Compared to the old cathedral it’s quite showy.
We stopped off for lunch at one of the many cafe’s which line the streets of the city. With the university so close to the cathedral a lot of the central area of the city is designated pedestrian only which gives it a nice relaxed feel.
Continuing after lunch we strolled across the Deuro river via the Roman Bridge. The Roman bridge dates from the 1st century, and is watched over by a stone bull from this period. Nearby old churches and water mills add to the scenery of his place. On the far side of the river is the best place to view the Cathedral and it’s obvious that when the old Cathedral was built pilgrims crossing he old bridge would’ve see the imposing building high on the hill.
On the way home we passed the Convento de San Esteban, a beautiful old church built by the Dominican friars in the 16th century. It’s massive ornate facade really is an eye catcher.
As light rain was chasing us we headed for shelter we hope the weather is better for our ride into northern Spain.