Salamanca is a small city of 144,000 people situated on the Meseta along the banks of the Tormes River. From earliest times was an important Iberian settlement. Today it is known for its University. In between it has had a rich history.
Hannibal conquered it in 220BCE. King Alfonso IX founded a great university here in 1218. St Teresa of Avila founded one of her many convents here. Wellington defeated Napoleons troops here in the Penninsula War in 1812. Franco lived here in the episcopal palace during the Spanish civil war. UNESCO declared it a historic world city in 1988.
We were supposed to be here in 2020 so let’s pretend we are.
Salamanca is known in Spain as La Dorada, the golden city. The majority of the buildings in the old city are built from villamayor limestone. This honey colored stone comes from local quarries around Salamanca. In its pure form, the stone is a pale blond color. When the sun shines on it it gives off a definite golden glow, sometimes tinged with pink.
It is a porous stone and while it’s softness is an advantage for the stonemason, it does not wear well. As the stone oxidizes it becomes red and progressively darker and crumbles. For the next few hours we will see some of the most famous examples.
We have left the Hospes Vonvento San Esteban where we had breakfast in what was originally the kitchen of the monastery.
We met Bishop Carlos, waiting for us by the Camino de Santiago hostel maker just outside of our door.
Bishop Carlos is no stranger to Salamanca. He received his Doctorate here from the university. He was the Rector of the Church of the Redeemer here and he founded an Anglican Student Centre here after he was made Bishop in 1995. His knowledge of the city is legendary. Mine will just scratch the surface and whet your appetite to know more.
Our first stop is the Cathedral, a minutes walk from our hotel.
Coming into the city you could not help but notice the size of the cathedral.
Actually it is not one cathedral but two.
The “Old” Cathefral begun in the end of the 12thc is in the Romanesque style. The “New” Cathedral, a mix of the Gothic and Baroque was built between the 16th and 18th centuries. The first cathedral was not torn down when the second one was built.Rather the two cathedrals sit side by side and share a common wall.
We enter through the intricately carved door of the New Cathedral
Here the difference between the original stonework and the restored us noticeable. On the left of the doors we have the lucky bunny, black with oxidation . To the right the pale modern demon eating an ice cream cone and the 1992 stonemasons “signature “ astronaut.
The interior of the new cathedral is a masterpiece with its slender ribbed columns it vaulted ceilings , its baroque dome, its beautifully carved choir painted organs and its private side chapels and the somewhat disappointing high altar.
Stepping through a doorway into the old cathedral is stepping into a painters paradise. Below are just a few of the many highlights.
The high altar reredos is a series of 53 panels depicting the lives of Jesus and Mary below a vivid depiction of the last judgement
The frescos also of the last judgement in the chapel of Saint Martin.
Tomb of a noblewoman with mourners below. It was the custom for mourners to wail and tear their hair when an important person died. The more the more impressive, even if they were paid to carry on !
Chapel of Saint Barbara with Saint Barbara holding the tower in which her father kept her until her marriage. When she became a Christian and refused to marry he had her tortured and killed. she is the patron Saint of miners artillery men mathematicians to name a few.
In this room doctoral candidates used to be examined. Not sure what the connection is. They sat in this chair where you see the presentbrector of Christ church Greenwich. If the candidate passed he only he in those days went out to great celebrations. If he failed there was a little door where he could slip away in shame.
We also would have seen a calendar of the Mozarabic rite which is the present day liturgical practice of the Spanish episcopal church.
And one final thing we would have seen- 14th century frescos hidden for years behind the altar discovered last year and on view only since February 2020
We are exiting through the museum passing a few more treasures on our way out, not to champagne and celebrations but to merienda, second breakfast. After all it has been three hours since we last ate.
Stay tuned for a visit to the cathedral roof, the university, the shell house, and the plaza. There’s a lot to see here but the stomach is rumbling.