After a couple days of relaxing just outside Valladolid, Spain, I’m on to my next destination and someplace I’ve wanted to visit for years: Salamanca! A beautiful university town, it’s known for having beautiful architecture and great food culture. So far, it hasn’t disappointed.
As it’s a Monday and most museums are closed, I opted to wander the city to orient myself and to duck into the couple sites I knew would be open: the university and the churches.
The city itself is quite small – it probably takes ~30 minutes total to walk from one end to the other of the “downtown” area where most sites of interest are. As I wandered, I quickly stumbled upon one of the best ways to start any type of exploration: the excellent view from the tower of the Universidad de Salamanca. Right next door is the famed “Casa de Conchas” or House of Snails, due to the distinctive clamshell decor on the outside. Today, it’s just a public library! The University houses the “Scala Coeli” from the towers in the photo to the left below.
After climbing up several flights of wooden stairs (thankfully, much more modern stairs than the last tower I climbed, in Romania!), I was rewarded with gorgeous views of the university’s orange-roofed quad, the bell tower, and the two Salamanca cathedrals (old and new). It was well worth it!
Then, I continued my meandering towards the cathedral – Salamanca is a bit unique in that it has both an “old” and a “new” cathedral built on the same property. I wasn’t able to enter to get the full story, but I plan to tomorrow. Either way, the exterior was stunning, with exceptionally intricate artwork.
As I continued wandering, I stumbled upon another intriguing site: the Cave of Salamanca. The site is in disrepair now, but it used to be part of the city’s historic walls next to a medieval crypt. As legend goes, the cave was the place where the devil, pretending to be a church leader, actually taught his seven disciples “occult sciences” (e.g., magic, prophecy, astrology, etc.) for seven years. The devil’s goal, of course, was to gain a servant for life. As the legend goes, the pupil selected actually deceived the devil and lost his shadow in the process. The cave myth has apparently featured in many, many famous Spanish works, including those by Cervantes.
After that, I stumbled upon my next site: the Church of St. Stephen. The church is actually a massive complex, including a cloister, chapter rooms, the sacristy, the church itself, and a fantastic staircase called the “De Soto” staircase after the prior at the time it was built.
Yet again, the artwork and level of detail was astounding. The details within the chapels was also incredible.
The staircase was truly incredible as well, with fantastic craftsmanship.
Lastly, the cloister was beautiful.
After St. Stephens, I decided to backtrack to the one museum I realized would be open, Casa de Lis. The museum is dedicated to Art Nouveau and Art Deco art and decorative items. The building itself was a spectacle and was even more incredible inside.
Sadly, photos weren’t allowed, but the highlights included:
- A temporary exhibit displaying a collection of original works by Dali on the theme of “Dante’s Inferno” – I had never seen Dali work like this before; essentially he used woodcutting to create surrealist portrayals of his interpretations of the content. They were incredible – some were basically sketches with fine details, and some were much more involved as you would expect
- A collection of incredible sculptures by an artist named Chiparus, primarily depicting ballet dancers based on inspiration from Diaghilev’s choreography with the Russian Ballet Company in the 1920s
- A collection of bronzes from Vienna, jewellry, chryselephantine statuettes, porcelains, etc. – basically any kind of material you could use to depict the female form in 1920s / 1930s fashion!
- An amazing collection of painted fans and ornate glass lamps
- A doll collection that was truly incredible, with a variety of French and German styles. Many of the dolls had specialized clothing to denote the culture they were attempting to represent (Norwegian, Dutch, etc.) or had other interesting features (some were ‘two faced’ – i.e., you could turn the head to display a different emotion)
Interestingly, they had a relatively large collection of “kewpie” dolls – I’ve had the Japanese kewpie mayonnaise hundreds of times, but had no idea the mascot was actually based on a series of very prominent cartoons and then dolls. Apparently the the mayonnaise company’s creator, Toichiro Nakashima, had interned in the United States and loved the cartoon, making it his company’s emblem. Who knew!
On the way back to the Plaza Mayor, I hit a couple more sights. First was the “Roman Bridge” which is the last vestige of Roman occupation in this area – there isn’t much left but the bridge itself.
I also was able to take in the old city walls as I made my way back towards the center of downtown.
I continued my wandering back towards the Plaza Mayor in the hopes that restaurants would start opening for lunch. Along the way, I took in the gorgeous architecture and colors.
The Plaza Mayor is gorgeous of course – and getting dressed up for Salamanca’s festivals coming up!
I also stumbled upon what appeared to be an exhibition space of some kind – the museum itself didn’t appear to be open, but the courtyard was beautiful.
Finally, I was able to grab lunch at a lovely restaurant called Bar Restaurante Baco, which serves local cuisine. I ordered the patatas bravas and the fried cuttlefish, which were both delicious (although it was way too much food!). The patatas bravas in this region are a little mundane compared to the versions I’ve tried in other areas of Spain, but fried potatoes are always delicious anyhow!
After that, it was back to the Airbnb, where I’m actually cooking dinner for the first time since arriving in Europe – I’m uncharacteristically excited to just have an evening in and watch a movie!