The City and its Monuments
Salamanca, a province and its capital city in León, in northwestern Spain, lies on three hills along the Tórmes River, a tributary of the Duero, at 2,645 feet (806 meters) above sea level, about 100 miles (160 km) northwest of Madrid. The city has cold winters and hot summers, with an average annual rainfall of 17 inches (430 mm). One of Spain's most interesting cities, Salamanca is famed for its university. It is also an administrative center and a railroad junction. In the 20th century, the city has grown beyond the circuit of the old walls, which have been largely replaced with tree-lined paseos, and a number of industries have developed, among which food processing is most important.

The mixing of architectural styles of Spain, particularly in Salamanca, is magnificent. There is seemingly no end to the many examples of worthy and historical landmarks throughout Salamanca - bridges, sculptures and statues, and buildings from chapels to palaces. The traditional building material, the stone of which the entire city is built, is sandstone of Villamayor - a village down river from Salamanca. Through the good work of the quarry-masters, ashlars of unique quality are on display for us today. When the passing of time airs the stone and dries it, eliminating the moisture it contained when sculpted, it becomes firm and lean with fantastic colored veins and then weathers to a golden brown. In the mid- to late-afternoon, Salamanca becomes a gilded place.

The Plaza Mayor is the city's center and is considered one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. It is surrounded by imposing buildings, including the baroque Ayuntamiento. Near the river rise the old and new cathedrals. The former, in the late Romanesque style of the 12th century with some Gothic features, has very thick walls and a lantern called the Torre del Gallo. Adjoining it is the Cathedral Nueva (New Cathedral), the last great Gothic edifice in Spain, built between 1513 and 1560 with additions in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Opposite the cathedral is the University of Salamanca, the oldest functioning university in Spain. The other educational institutions include the Irish College, a normal school, the Pontifical Ecclesiastical University founded in the 13th century, a theological seminary founded in 1779, as well as religious and technical schools. Several convents and monasteries survive from the many that once existed in the city.

Other buildings of interest are the churches of San Martín in the late Romanesque style with notable Gothic tombs; San Estebán, built in the Dominican style between 1524 and 1610 with a Plateresque façade; the Convent of the Augustinas Recoletas, built between 1598 and 1636 with three noted paintings by José Ribera; the Palacio de Monterey, erected in the 16th century; the Casa de la Salina, constructed in the 16th century; and the Roman bridge, in which the majority of the arches are of original Roman structure.

The city was taken by Hannibal in the third century B.C. and afterward belonged to the Roman province of Lusitania. Upon the disintegration of the Roman Empire it passed under Vandal and Visigothic, then Arab, rule early in the eighth century. After changing hands several times in the opening stages of the reconquest, it came under full Christian domination after the capture of Toledo in 1085. Repopulated by French and other immigrants, the city acquired fame for itsfuero (civil code) and its university. Its golden age, enhanced by the concourse of many Castilian nobles, was during the 16th century, when its splendor caused it to be called a little Rome. Decline began under Philip II and was hastened by the expulsion of the Moriscos in 1610, the wars with Portugal, and the conflict over the Spanish succession. During the Napoleonic Era, Salamanca was fortified by the French and on July 22, 1812, the army of Marmont, Duc de Raguse, was defeated by an Allied army under the Duke of Wellington south of the city. This reverse marked the beginning of the French downfall in Spain. Salamanca went over to the Nationalists early in the Spanish Civil War and was used as the Nationalist capital for a time in 1937-38.

Salamanca population: 200,000.

The Province
The province of Salamanca has an area of 4,763 square miles (12,336 sq. km). It forms the southern part of León and is bounded on the west by Portugal. On the south, it is bounded by the province of Cáceres, on the east by Ávila Province, and on the north by the provinces of Zamora and Valladolid. In the north and west the terrain is rolling and generally treeless, but in the southeast and south are the Sierras de Gata and de Gredos along the border and the Sierra de Peña de Francia within the province. The triangle between these three ranges is drained by the Alagón River, a tributary of the Tajo (Tagus) River. The rest of the province lies within the Duero River basin, of which the chief affluents are the Agueda, the Yéltes, and the Tórmes. Dams and other hydraulic facilities have been set up to harness these rivers.

The principal rural activities are livestock raising and cereal culture. Grape and olive cultivation flourishes. About half the province is wooded. Besides Salamanca, Ciudad Rodrigo and Béjar are cities of note.

  • Guía de hoy Salamanca, English version, © Grupo Anaya, S.A., 1991, Anaya Touring.
  • Salamanca: Mankind Heritage, Patronato Provincial de Turismo de Salamanca, Publisher.
  • Robert Gale Woollbert; Joaquin Esteban Perruca · Copyright © 1996 P.F. Collier · Collier's Encyclopedia, 1996 ed., p. 371 & Copyright © 1996 Information Access Company · Article A17255663