When I was reading about Salamanca before this trip, the fact that stuck out to me the most was that the University of Salamanca was founded in 1218–the fourth oldest university in the world. As an American, I’m guilty of thinking that things didn’t really exist until about 1776, and the thought of something being that old is almost impossible for me to wrap my head around. When we visited the university, we were encouraged to look for a frog on top of a skull hidden somewhere in the building’s massive facade.
The frog represents female lust, and students (all male) who found the frog were said to have good luck during the school year because they would focus on academics rather than the opposite sex. As I looked for the frog, I couldn’t help but think how cool it was that people had been searching for the same thing for almost 800 years. What I love about Salamanca is how they incorporate their history into modern times. For example, students who graduated from the school centuries ago used to write their names in bull’s blood underneath the Latin word for victory on the school’s walls. The remnants of these writings are faded but still visible today. Alongside them are newer additions: names written underneath the word “victor” by recent graduates, in a more artistic and controlled fashion.
Another example of modernity thrown into ancient architecture is the door of the New Cathedral (in Salamanca, “new” means built in the 17th century). In 1992, parts of the door needed to be redone, and the designers seized the opportunity to put a piece of their own era into the building. That’s why, if you look closely, you can see a lynx, a bull and an astronaut nestled in the carvings on the wall.
The history in Salamanca is amazing. Not only can you see churches and houses built anywhere from the 12th to the 18th century–you can also walk down the Roman Bridge, built in the 1st century before triple-digit years were a thing. I can’t wait to explore these buildings and the rest of the city in the upcoming weeks.