Quod natura non dat Salmantica non praestat

This old Latin adage refers to the Spanish Universidad de Salamanca’s ability to teach anyone anything! Expressed almost literally: if you don’t have the natural capacity, Salamanca cannot give it to you. Booklearning is not everything. This actually applies to One Dress, One Day. Where a street smart thief triggers the whole 24-hour tale based on actual events.

Yet Salamanca does embody much of the spirit of Old Spain. The feeling of traditional Catholic Spain infuses certain cities during Holy Week. Malaga, Sevilla, Zamora, and, of course, Barcelona, an urban port city in Catalonia. [Image above]

Salamanca is the capital of the Province of Salamanca in Castile and Leon. (Remember that Spain used to comprise various small kingdoms.) The city lies on several hills by the Tormes River.  Approximately 200 kilometres (120 miles) west of the Spanish capital and 80 km (50 mi) east of the Portuguese border, Salamanca retains its historical character and importance through its university, founded in 1218.  The oldest university in Spain, it is the fourth oldest western university.

One of the most important moments in the city’s history was the year 1218 when the university received granted a royal charter.

A foreigner, I was fortunate to attend classes there. Many foreigners flock to the University to improve my Spanish (castellano), notably in the spring and summer. The high standards and serious adult students from around the globe made my time there memorable. The DELE (diploma de español lengua extranjera) international examination is administrated from Salamanca. I took my DELE superior later at an old convent school in Montréal, Canada. It felt like the Spanish Inquisition or a Reconquista!

Although One Dress, One Day takes place in Barcelona, parts of Asturias and the Basque Country, my memories of the food and the spirit of Holy Week in Salamanca found their way into the story. The nightly processions, the Lenten concerts in damp churches, the rites and rituals of hooded penitents carrying relics, statues or crosses … Once experienced, these moments cannot be forgotten.  

During the 16th century, the city reached its height (around 6,500 students and a total population of 24,000). The juridical doctrine of the School of Salamanca represented the end of medieval concepts of law and founded the fundamental body of the ulterior European law and morality concepts, including rights as a corporeal being (right to life), economic rights (right to own property) and spiritual rights (rights to freedom of thought and rights related to intrinsic human dignity). In 1551, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V ordered an inquiry to find out if the science of Vesalius, physician and anatomist, was in line with Catholic doctrine. Vesalius came to Salamanca that same year to appear before the board and was acquitted.

Salamanca suffered the downturns of the Kingdom of Castile during the 17th century but experienced a rebirth in the 18th century when the new baroque Cathedral and main square (Plaza Mayor) were finished. Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor is one of Spain’s most famous main squares.

English people generally have heard about Salamance and Napoleon!  Wellington decisively defeated the French army of Marmont there in the Battle of Salamanca fought on 22 July 1812.

During the Spanish Civil War (1936–39) the city quickly went over to the Nationalist side and was used as the de facto capital. Franco was named Generalissimo in September 1937 while in Salamanca, where the official party that ruled Spain until the end of the Francoist regime would be formed. The Nationalists soon moved most of the administrative departments to the more central city of Burgos. Historically, however, Franco’s headquarters (located at the Palacio Episcopal, next to the Old Cathedral) and the military commands remained in Salamanca, along with the German and Italian fascist delegations, making it the de facto capital and centre of power during the entire civil war. Like much of fervently Catholic and largely rural Leon and Castile regions, Salamanca was a staunch supporter of the Nationalist side and Franco’s regime.

In 1988, the old city was rightly declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

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