Salamanca is the university city by excellence, known in the whole world for this and for its artistic richness: cathedrals, palaces, churches... of artistic styles such as romanesque, gothic, plateresque y barroque. Situated on the banks of the river Tormes, its geographical extensión is 12.336 Km², and It currently has 159.000 inhabitants.
Throughout its long existence, Salamanca, has borne witness to some of the most important events in Spanish history. Pre-Roman remains have been found in the Teso de San Vicente, a Roman bridge overlooks the River Tormes, and at the end of the bridge there is a 'verraco', an Iberian statue representing a bull. Numerous inscriptions have also been uncovered in the city walls, and there are still traces of the Calzada de la Plata (Silver Route) which passed through.
The city was besieged by Hannibal around 220 BC, and from about 50 BC onwards, it was part of the Roman province of Lusitania. Little information remains from the Visigothic era, and between 6th and 10th centuries AD Salamanca found itself in the heart of the No-man’s land between the Christian and Islamic kingdoms, changing hands several times before it was finally reconquered by the great pro-European king, Alfonso VI. In 1096, he handed responsibility for the repopulation of the city to his son-in-law, Count Raimundo de Borgoña, who subsequently granted Salamanca its first municipal charter.
In 1200 Alfonso IX founded what was to become the University of Salamanca some eighteen years later. So, in many ways, the city owes its fame and prosperity to him. The new University soon received recognition from Kings Fernando el Santo (The Saint) and Alfonso X el Sabio (The Wise), establishing the number and type of professorships that should make up the University structure. Already, by 1254, Pope Alexander IV had dubbed the University of Salamanca “one of the four leading lights of the world”.
Salamanca was visited several times by the Catholic Monarchs, once after the death of their son, Prince Don Juan, in 1497, and King Ferdinand also resided there from October 1505 to March 1506. Carlos I visited Salamanca in 1534, and in 1543, Felipe II married his first wife, María of Portugal in the city. Felipe III visited Salamanca in 1600 with his second wife, Margaret of Austria.
The city took part in the War of Succession, on the side of Felipe V, founder of the Bourbon dynasty. It was occupied by the troops of Archduke Charles of Austria, but was soon recovered by Felipe V. He stayed here for several days in 1710 and subsequently ordered the construction of the Plaza Mayor. Salamanca was badly affected by the Peninsular War. From 1808 to 1811 it was occupied by both the French and the British as they used Spanish soil as a battleground for European dominance. During the period, many of Salamanca’s most valuable architectural treasures were destroyed, including the Colegio Mayor de Cuenca. Finally, the Battle of Arapiles, at the very gates of the city, saw the defeat of the French at the hands of Wellington. The engagement was decisive in the eventual withdrawal of the French from Spanish territory.
Meanwhile, the city developed a lively community with life at the University, the distribution of professorships and relations between lecturers and students, evolving side by side with the rest of the town.
Artistically, a catalogue of the most exquisite styles has left their mark on the city. The most beautiful examples of Spanish Plateresque (silverware) style, with its decorative quality and fine execution, can be found in Salamanca. The style perfectly suited the local stone with its soft, malleable texture and beautiful golden colour.
Innumerable renowned historical figures, including Fray Luis de León, Antonio de Nebrija, Francisco de Vitoria, Cervantes, Menéndez Valdés, San Juan de la Cruz, Miguel de Unamuno and Gonzalo Torrente Ballester, have connections with the city, both within the University and as members of the city’s artistic community, adding further to Salamanca’s rich heritage.
Today, life in the city is not so different from any other in Spain, although its spiritual foundations (especially with the Pontificia – Catholic University) and lively student community lend it a unique atmosphere. With the Plaza Mayor at its hub, this Spanish Oxbridge thrives as one of the major cultural tourist destinations in Spain. It has been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, and in 2002 enjoyed the prestigious mantle of European Capital of Culture.