The “Twelve Treasures of the Kingdom of Spain” was a contest/poll that was conducted by the Spanish Television Company Antena 3 and the radio broadcaster Cope. The final results were announced on 31st December 2007. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the eight out of the twelve that I have visited and having completed that I thought I might come up with a personal alternative twelve.
The official winning twelve included five Cathedrals, but I have only one – at number eleven – Salamanca.
Salamanca is one of the most magnificent Renaissance cities in all of Europe. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988 and a European City of Culture in 2002. Sandstone coloured buildings overwhelmingly fill the city, earning Salamanca the name of La Ciudad Dorada (The Golden City).
We arrived just after midday, easily slipped into an underground car park and made our way into the city. On every visit to Spain I seem to be visiting a new World Heritage Site so when I counted them up I was interested to discover that I have now been to sixteen and that is over a third of them.
In 2005 I visited Barcelona in Catalonia and saw the works of Antoni Gaudi and Palau de la Música Catalana and the Hospital de Sant Pau. Then in 2008 I saw the Historic Centre of Córdoba, the Caves of Altamira in Cantabria, the Old Town of Santiago de Compostela and the Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville. In 2009 in the motoring holiday around Castilian cities I visited the Old Town of Segovia and its Aqueduct, the Historic Walled Town of Cuenca, the Historic City of Toledo and the Old Town of Ávila.
It was still misty even though the sun was struggling to break through as we walked through cobbled streets and buildings of rich caramel coloured Villamayor stone and directly to the centre of the city. Then around the busy University buildings and visited the public library and after that the centre of the city and the inevitable Plaza Mayor where because it was too chilly to sit at a pavement café groups of men were wandering around deep in conversation discussing the important matters of the day.
Elderly men are a way of life in Spain because just as Gerald Brenan explained in ‘South from Granada’ “…almost every Spanish peasant becomes wise when he passes fifty.”
It was a good Plaza, but despite being the second largest in Spain after Madrid with vast harmonious arcaded space designed by Alberto Churriguera in the eighteenth century we did not consider it one of our favourites, but still worth a visit and when we had finished admiring it we left through a stone arch and looked for a bar and somewhere for lunch and we found what we were looking for just outside the square so stopped for tapas and a beer.
It was easy to conclude that there is something special about Salamanca almost as though in every street, with every building and in every Church and Palace that this represents the real Spain that we have been searching for and this may well be because it has the oldest University in Spain which rivals in historic importance that of Oxford and Bologna and houses one of the oldest libraries in the World and is considered to be the source of the ‘pure‘ Spanish language and associated culture of Old Castile.
As we ate an optimistic old lady passed by selling sprigs of rosemary and I didn’t know why until later when I looked it up. Rosemary, apparently, is widely thought to be a powerful guardian and to give power to women and therefore it is used by many people to ward off evil in the home and bring good luck in family matters. If I had known this at the time I might have bought some to see if it might improve the weather because the mist wasn’t shifting when we left and went to visit the cathedral.
I should say cathedrals because Salamanca has two, an old one and a new one that are joined together into one massive structure. We paid €3.50 each for tickets to visit and then commenced a tour of the towers and the balconies that involved an awful lot of spiral staircases and a labyrinth of stone corridors took us from one to the other. It was a spectacular building and well worth the money but it was a pity about the weather because the drab overcast sky and persistent patches of mist spoilt what would certainly have been spectacular views from the top.
After the visit we returned to the streets and walked to the 1st Century Roman Bridge across the River Tormes, which was flowing west towards the Embalse de Almendra that we had visited yesterday and then with no real prospect of weather improvement we abandoned Salamanca to the mist and returned to the car and set out for Vallodolid.