History of Salamanca

Mother Earth Travel > Spain > Salamanca > History

The city's name is linked to Greek historians who called it Helmantiké, Hermándica and Salamántica. Alfonso X (The Wise) was the first person to call it Salamanca. It originated as an Iberian military outpost on the hill of San Vicente, still to be seen today in the Verraco Prerromano. The inhabitants were known as the Vacceos, and the women were celebrated for their valour in the face of the Carthaginian general Hannibal in 220 BC.

Roman Times

Salamanca belonged to Lusitania. The Roman acropolis was built on a cliff above the Tormes River. Today, part of the city wall remains, as well as the Puente Romano (Roman Bridge), along which ran the Ruta de la Plata, a Roman road that linked Mérida and Astorga.

The Arabs

Salamanca gave itself up to the Muslims in the year 712. The defensive city wall was strengthened, the Mozarab population being relegated outside of it. It was a time of constant fighting with the Astur-Leonese kingdoms. The city became a no-man's land.


In 1102, Alfonso VI gave his son-in-law, Count Ramón de Borgoña, and his wife Urraca de Castilla the task of repopulating Salamanca. Various groups arrived, and developed their communities around different churches. The Portuguese grouped within the churches of Santo Tomás Cantuariense, San Cristóbal and Sancti Spiritus; the Torenses within Iglesia de San Julián and San Martín; the Mozarabs in the church of Santiago; and the Castilians in those of San Juan Bautista de Barbalos and Santa María de los Caballeros. The parish ruled by the regents of Castile, San Marcos. Santa María de la Sede, later called Catedral Vieja (Old Cathedral), stood out above the others.

13th to 15th Centuries

In 1218 an important event changed the life of the city. This was Alfonso IX's creation of the Estudio General or university, which enjoyed a reputation throughout Europe because of the number of departments and the prestige of its teaching. As a result, four large colleges were built, such as the Colegio del Arzobispo Fonseca, and 28 smaller ones were also created.

Towards the end of the Middle Ages, the life of the city was overshadowed by fights between rival groups, ending tragically in the murder of the Monroy brothers at the hands of the Manzano brothers. The murder did not go unpunished, as the boys' mother, doña María la Brava, did not stop until she laid the heads of the murderers on the grave of her sons. San Juan de Sahagún imposed a truce in 1476. Remains of fortified towers from the end of the Middle Ages still stand, such as the Torre del Aire (Tower of the Air) and the Torre del Clavero (Tower of the Clove Trees).

16th to 18th Centuries

With the arrival of the Renaissance, the city enjoyed a period of splendour. The plateresque style is most clearly embodied in the façade of the University and in many palaces and mansions like the Palacio de Monterrey and the Casa de las Muertes. These are monuments built from Villamayor stone, giving Salamanca that famous golden hue which Unamuno immortalised with his words: "...plateresco rosal de otoño, con su encendida amarillez en la tarde del Renacimiento de la hojas..." ("plateresque autumnal rosebush, with its yellow light, illuminated in the evening Renaissance of the leaves).

The arts also had their Golden Age in Salamanca: Francisco de Vitoria, Nebrija with his first Gramática (Grammar), Fray Luis de León, Fernando de Rojas and his world-famous work La Celestina set in the Huerto de Calixto y Melibea, Cervantes, and many other authors spent time in and immortalised Salamanca in their works.

After the reign of Felipe III, the 17th century saw a decline in the city. Students spent more time following a Bohemian and picaresque lifestyle than studying. Teaching became more conservative, the arts took refuge in the baroque, reaching maximum expression in Espíritu Santo Church, also known as the Clerecía. By the end of the 18th century, splendour returned to the arts through the hands of Joaquín y Alberto de Churriguera and García de Quiñones. A good example is the magnificent Plaza Mayor (main square).

19th and 20th Centuries

The War of Independence (1808-1812), also referred to as the 'French connection', and ecclesiastical alienation had catastrophic consequences for Salamanca, as they brought down much of the city's cultural and artistic heritage. The University acquired a marked provincial character and might well have disappeared altogether had it not been for Miguel de Unamuno.

After the Civil War the city began a project of urbanisation, master-minded by Víctor D'Ors.

Salamanca is currently being upgraded. In the year 2002 it will be European Cultural Capital. Today, as yesterday, thousands of students pass through its university lecture halls, bringing life to the city.