The city of Salamanca is located in the Southwest part of the province of Castille/Leon, about two hours by bus or train from Madrid. One of the oldest cities in Spain, it is the only city in the country to possess two cathedrals built in the same complex. The old cathedral dates to the 12 th or 13 th century and was constructed in a time when the frontier between Spanish and Moorish forces was not far off and constantly shifted; now nearer, now farther away. Owing to the city’s proximity to these battles, the old cathedral was built in the Romanesque style with thick walls, few windows, and a modest interior space, constructed as it was to provide a stronghold for defenders of the city in case of a resurgence of Moorish invaders.It was more like a fort than the Plateresque Gothic/Renaissance edifice that was constructed on its western wall. After the final reconquest of Spain however, the threat of invasion from the south was remote and it was decided that a new cathedral would more properly represent the importance of the city. The new cathedral was built upon the site where the nave of the original had been with the idea that the rest of the former cathedral would be knocked down when the new one was completed. Begun in 1513, it was more than two hundred years before the second cathedral was completed and when the time came, there was no money left for the demolition of the old. It still stands and can be accessed as part of any tour of the Cathedral complex.
University city of Spain
In addition to its peculiar double cathedral, Salamanca was known as the university city of Spain, and of the known world. Founded in 1200 by King Alfonso the ninth, it was praised only 54 years later by Pope Alexander IV as "one of the four leading lights of the world." It was in the halls of the university that Christopher Columbus consulted with the most learned astronomers, geographers, scientists, and theologians of the day to plan his westward voyage to the Indies. It remains the most respected university in Spain with thousands of students, both native and international, educated there year round. The university’s façade is a popular destination for tourists and for current students. Not just a good meeting place, it is legend that those who can find a tiny frog among the finely detailed baroque sculptures and carvings on the wall will have success in their studies in the upcoming term.
Many think that the Plaza Mayor, located in the center of the old part of the city, is the most beautiful in all of Spain. Other sites of interest in Salamanca are the San Martin church; the Roman bridge; the Centro de arte de Salamanca, a newly opened contemporary art museum; the House of Lis, a museum of art nouveau and art deco; and the Casa de las conchas (House of Seashells), a building set with seashell carvings on its exterior wall, one of which is rumored to contain a golden treasure. Visitors to the city enjoy the temperate climate, never too hot or humid in the summer and moderately cool in the winter. The Van Dyck quarter, anchored by the Van Dyke moviehouse, is where local salmantinos go for tapas at the end of a day of work and is located about 10 minutes walking distance from the old city. Like any other city in Spain, Salamanca has its share of cafes, bars, restaurants, and discotheques, but perhaps no where in Spain are these places set in such a picturesque and historical setting.