Iberian Road Trip – Salamanca and Ávila

Back in 2002, while Bobby was studying at the USAFA, he was selected for a summer immersion language program (also through the Olmsted Foundation, the same foundation that has given us these three wonderful years in Europe).  It was his first visit to Europe and he quickly fell in love.  In fact, when we started the Olmsted Scholar application process a few years ago, Salamanca was on the top of his list for places to live.  Although we are extremely happy with the way things worked out here in Firenze, it is easy for me to see why he has always loved the Spanish culture and in particular, the city of Salamanca.  After a four hour drive in very wet and windy conditions, we arrived in the popular university town.

Roman bridge, Salamanca

Roman bridge in Salamanca

Bobby said that the area by the Roman bridge had changed a lot since he first visited.  They expanded the park and have some great running paths south of the river.  Our hotel happened to be on the south side, so we had the chance to walk over the Roman bridge several times.  You can see in the photo above that several of the arches have been reinforced over the years, and some blocks have been replaced.  This is understandable, as the bridge is from the 1st century BC! Now that is old.

View of Salamanca's historical center from the bridge

View of Salamanca’s historical center from the bridge

Cathedral perched on the hill

Salamanca Cathedral perched on the hill

Since 1988, the Salamanca city center has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  In 2002, it was also selected, along with Bruges, as the European City of Culture.  As I mentioned before, it is a very important university town, with almost 1/5 of all Spanish language instruction coming from Salamanca alone.  It is also considered the oldest university in Spain, founded in 1218 by King Alfonso IX, King of León and Galicia.

Salamanca Cathedral

Salamanca Cathedral

Salamanca Cathedral

Salamanca Cathedral

On the Cathedral steps

On the Cathedral steps

The Salamanca Cathedral actually consists of two cathedrals, the “Old” one from the 12th century and the “New” one from the 16th.  Without looking at the differing architectural styles, you can’t really distinguish between the two because they are attached.  As you can imagine, over the years, the Cathedral has undergone some renovation.  In 1992, the cathedral received a rather “unique” addition.  Jeronimo Garcia, the man responsible for the restoration, decided he would incorporate a modern motif as a way of signing his work, adding a piece of the 20th century to the 16th century facade.  What better way than to carve an astronaut into the front of the church?  Yep, an astronaut.

The Salamanca astronaut

The Salamanca astronaut

I also saw another interesting carving nearby.  Just in case you can’t see with two eyes, the artist added a third for good measure.

3rd eye

3rd eye

Entrance into the Plaza Mayor

Entrance into the Plaza Mayor

Salamanca is also the place where Christopher Columbus first expressed his idea to the Dominicans of taking a different route to reach the “Indies”.  Even though his expedition was ultimately turned down, the Queen got word from her priest at the Cathedral in Salamanca of Columbus’ plans.  Inspired by the story, she traveled to Salamanca herself and sold her personal jewels, thus financing his travel.  There is a monument to him in the Plaza de Colón.

Christopher Columbus in Salamanca

Christopher Columbus in Salamanca as a great “landing strip” for the pigeons

After a full day of site-seeing around Salamanca, we once again passed over the Roman bridge, probably my favorite structure in the city.

Roman bridge

Roman bridge

Mom and Dad on the bridge

Mom and Dad on the bridge

On our way to Segovia (stay turned for our next blog!), Bobby wanted us to see the walled city of Ávila.  Due to its large and very impressive medieval walls (built in Romanesque style), Ávila was also deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It seems like we are really wracking those up on this trip!  I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get a chance to walk on the walls.  There are several gates where you can enter, but they were closed.  I’m not sure if it is an out-of-season type thing or if they no longer allow visitors to climb up on the walls.

Two days before we arrived, Spanish television was flooded with the news of the death of Adolfo Suárez, Spain’s first President and the man who was responsible for Spain’s democratic transition.  He was buried in the Ávila Cathedral.  We tried to enter to see his grave, but they had the area roped off.  We’re assuming that they were still working on his memorial site.

Avila walls

Avila walls

Beautiful craftsmanship

Beautiful craftsmanship

Avila town square

Avila town square

After having a huge lunch with a bowl of soup the size of my head and a steak larger than Bobby’s plate, we hit up a local pastry shop for some road snacks and headed for our next stop – Segovia.

Our "treats" for the road-trip

Our “treats” for the road-trip

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  1. […] our “best walled cities” ranking.  We walked the walls in Obidos and Girona, and Avila’s were pretty impressive too, but Dubrovnik’s take the cake.  You do have to buy a ticket to […]