The illustrious University of Salamanca is celebrating its 800th year of higher learning. Spain’s oldest university is currently enjoying a renaissance of education and prestige. The University’s nearly 30,000 students study at schools of Art, Law, Medicine, Science and Humanities. Located within the city of Salamanca, the University’s famous faculty and students include Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, Christopher Columbus and Miguel de Unamuno. It is a beacon of enlightenment within the city of Salamanca.
Founded in 1218 by King Alfonso IX, The University of Salamanca enjoyed a “golden era” in the 16th century. Financed by gold from the New World, its focus of study changed from one influenced by Catholic teaching to a more humanistic approach to learning. Tragically, enrollment declined in the 17th 18th and 19th centuries due to a series of wars, epidemics and economic struggles. At the height of its decline, the University’s schools were reduced to Law and Philosophy-Arts only. Then in the 1860’s, the University created the schools of Medicine and Science under the leadership of its Vice Chancellor, Miguel de Unamuno, a famous Spanish writer and philosopher. Today, the University remains one of Europe’s most important institutions of education with over 500 degrees of studies offered.
Scholars and visitors to the University of Salamanca are often awed by its history and magnificent buildings that populate the city campus. Beyond the gates to the University which is decorated with a famous carving of a small frog atop a human skull, is its most famous, the Cathedrals of Salamanca, Old and New. The Old Cathedral is a Romanesque structure completed in the 14th century. It contains tombs of bishops and nobles within its walls and is home to Nicolás Florentino’s mural depicting Christ and the Last Judgement. When construction began on the New Cathedral in the 16th century, designers opted to leave the Old Cathedral intact instead of demolishing it. Today, visitors access the Old Cathedral through The New Cathedral’s entrance. The latter is a beautiful example of Gothic and Baroque style decorated in intricate carvings inside and out.
Students, professors, residents and visitors often flock to the Plaza Mayor. A public square bustling with activity, restaurants and shops. Built in the 18th century, the plaza is one of the largest in Spain. Enjoy a “leche helada”, a thin milkshake, in the afternoon at one of the ice cream stands or be entertained in the evening by “tunas” which are students dressed in 17th century garb playing mandolins, flutes and accordions. The square itself is decorated with carvings of famous Spaniards including poets, kings and saints.
Salamanca is a rich cultural destination infused with a vibrancy that the University feeds. Its students and faculty from all over Spain and the world, mix and mingle with the people of Salamanca creating a university city that is exciting and fun. As the University of Salamanca celebrates is last 800 years, it looks forward to its next 800 years and invites you to experience its history in person.
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