Salamanca is not a modern city — and I love it for that. Walking down any street, one can see cathedrals, righteous and beautiful with rich architecture, rise from the tops of buildings.
The city dates back to the 4th century, founded by the Celts. Very soon, however, the Romans conquered Salamanca and the city became an important stop on the Ruta de Plata, or road of silver, a Roman road that traversed the peninsula from north to south. In the 8th century, Muslims invaded the region and reigned until the 13th, when Christians reclaimed the city. Salamanca was conquered, invaded, and recaptured by many major powers over the centuries, and this layered history is reflected in the architecture and customs of the city. In the oldest church, one can see the Celtic and Roman influences in the architecture. One can feel the history and the culture of Salamanca in the stone façades of each building, and in the relief sculptures that adorn it.
The university where I studied this summer, the Universidad de Salamanca, has its own rich history. Considered by many to be the “Oxford of the Spanish speaking world,” the University was founded in the 13th century by Alfonso IX. 2018 will mark 800 years since its conception! With campus buildings scattered throughout the city, it is both a trek and a lesson in history just to walk to class. The most famous façade depicts a tribute to King Ferdinand and Queen Elizabeth. On another section of wall, is the famous frog that sits atop a skull. As the tradition goes, when one finds the frog, one is granted good luck and the promise that they will return to Salamanca in their lifetime.
Small details like this are all around the city. If one takes an extra left and gets lost, one might run into a little known gem of Salamanca, perhaps a literal hole in the wall that increases the authenticity of your time abroad. One day, I found a tower that led to a breathtaking view of the city. The most important lesson to exploring a new city is to be aware of one’s surroundings — not just for safety purposes, but also as to ensure that these little-known gems don’t go unnoticed. Of course it depends on the city, but in safer towns like Salamanca, going out of one’s comfort zone, maybe getting lost once in a while, often leads to being more comfortable later. It is worth it to get to known the city and its different neighborhoods, and to discover history for oneself.
After writing this, I took my own advice and got lost. I found new areas in the city, asked for directions, which I barely understood, and stopped for coffee at a small, but elegant, café. Eventually, I wandered back to the main Plaza in the city and from there, found my way back to my apartment. I never felt uncomfortable, although I remained more alert than I would have been walking with friends in familiar areas. But going out on a limb and exploring a bit on one’s own is worth a bit of nervousness. One can venture down any street, find new architecture to admire, and make note of impressive cafes to visit later during the trip—and hopefully by month’s end, walking around Salamanca will be like walking around my own neighborhood.
This post was contributed by Maya White, a former Student Blogger who spent her summer studying abroad with AIFS in Salamanca, Spain.