The way to Salamanca was past Avila, a town only familiar to me because of my childhood church education about St Teresa of Avila, a learned lady and Carmelite nun to whom even the men of the church listened, and a known mystic. It was Bernini’s statue of her in ecstasy that we saw a few years ago in Rome. We almost gave up because parking was so difficult, but finally found a spot and set off through the gates in the massive walls of the city. These I imagine to be very much restored as they are in such perfect condition. A gorgeous day with bright blue skies added considerably to the photos.
Gate with statue of St Teresa
The main square was delightful, lined with a colonnade of shops and restaurants one side and a small church at one end. The massive cathedral, mostly granite and therefore rather dour, was our target. Again, like most Spanish cathedrals the altarpiece was a number of paintings surrounded in gold. The ambulatory behind the altar contained lovely carvings of the four Evangelists. There was a delightful and very old font with a baptism of Christ on the front. The cloister was enclosed by glass and inside were a number of the church treasures, but the pretty trefoils at the top were covered in a ribbed plastic. I believe there should have been stained glass there, but maybe not.
Avila cloister windows
We visited the small church at the end of the cloister and found it to be dark and not at all uplifting, which was a shame, but we were happy to sit for a while in a café and have a small lunch.
Avila sweet things
Avila square and church
Then onwards to Salamanca. We were very glad of our GPS as the city has many traffic free streets and the path to our hotel was circuitous, eventually landing us at the front door right at the cathedral plaza. Nice address! The hotel was an NH Hotel, which I have not heard of before but which really offered lovely rooms and the best ever breakfast buffet. This was the view from outside the door.
This is a city of two universities which are old and have links therefore to the church, clergy and cathedral. Indeed, students used to take their vive voce exams in the Chapel of St Barbara and be evicted by the back door if they did not pass.
The New Cathedral was built against the Old Cathedral, even stealing a little of its space. The older was Romanesque with mostly rounded arches whereas the new was Gothic with soaring pillars, pointed arches and an ornate double choir, all capped with a lantern, a light filled topping like the one at Ely Cathedral in England.
The ambulatory behind the main altar had many chapels, but the one for Il Cid, carried into battle by the king, was quite moving. It appears the one above replaces the original below, but that is not really clear. The gold surrounds also make it difficult to see, but there is a white ivory or bone figure below.
The altar of Il Cid
Outside there were beautiful tympani and many niches for statues of saints, strangely empty. I heard a guide say they were short of cash, so some things were just not done, including much stained glass. Even so, the building took over 200 years to finish.
Entry, Birth of Jesus and the Magi
And from this last picture, a carving on the side portal, it seems there was some prediction of what was to come in the world. How amazing! (see why at the end)
We love to visit markets, especially fresh food. The Salamanca markets were very fresh, mostly fish and cured meats, some fresh meat and a few vegetable stores. I don’t know what the “Secret Iberico” is in the meat shops nor the unindentifiable bits in the fish shops ? cod cheeks.
Fish heads and octopus
Very expensive ham and smallgoods. Delicious.
Will this one do?
Places in town also sold luscious goodies
The social hub of Salamanca is the Plaza Major, based on the one in Madrid and truly an harmonious place in its architecture. Many cafes and shops are under the arches of the colonnades. It was the Festival of Salamanca for two weeks, so families and students were out and about attending concerts, plays, dance and mini-festivals. There were little pop-up cafes set up everywhere serving drink and tapas. Plaza Major had a full sound stage in front of the town hall. Students were enrolling at the universities and the place was simply bustling.
Plaza Major, morning
Early evening with Mickey Mouse making balloon figures
We walked through the streets, poked into some shops, sat in cafes, visited the Roman Bridge and the patio in the House of Shells, now a library. The patio was a double height open area around which the house was built. We loved the carved decorations as well as the gargoyles that directed the water from the roof into the cistern below the well. We intended to visit the interior of the Pontifical University but were told that could only be done by guided tour. I think this was not correct but the language barrier may have got in the way.
The Museum Lis is dedicated to Art Nouveau and Art Deco. Housed in a building with painted and stained glass windows and ceiling, is showcases much in the areas of glass and arts decorative of the period, plus hundreds of dolls by expensive doll makers. This section was frankly a bit creepy for us but we very much enjoyed the glass by masters such as Galle, the fluid lines of the furniture and the remarkable bronze and marble figurines. No photos allowed inside, alas!
The exterior windows of Casa Lis
We ate in two very good restaurants; one, next door to the Museum, had a gorgeous view of the old cathedral from its window. Of course we ate in virtual isolation again, having begun at 9pm. The Spaniards began arriving at about 10pm. On our final night we ate at a French restaurant and it was enjoyable to have a change of pace and taste from Spanish food, much as we are enjoying that.
View from Restaurant Lis
(re the astronaut: The portal carvings were restored in 1992. The astronaut and an ice cream eating beastie were added then)
Next stop: Santiago de Compostela (though these pilgrims are travelling by car, not foot)