Friday 31 May 2019 – Monday 3 June 2019 Avila -Salamanca – Ciudad Rodrigo
After we left Madrid we headed northwest to Avila, a town which is known for its intact city walls. The walls with towers and main gates were constructed during the 12th century and are more or less as we see them today, with a perimeter of approximately 2.5 kilometres. As we approached the town, we could see the impressive walls surrounding the old town. It is quite spectacular.
We walked the city walls with the aid of an audio guide which gave a great historical account of the old town, its walls with 87 turrets and 9 gates and the surrounding area. The nine gates each had its own function and design. They certainly would have to be one of the best conserved walls around. It was registered as a National Monument in 1884.
At night, when the walls are illuminated it has a enchanting effect, which looks like a castle out of a fairy-tale.
On our way out we stopped at Los Cuatro Postes, a viewpoint which also marks the place where Santa Teresa (a Spanish noblewoman with Jewish roots who was hoping to achieve martyrdom among the Moors) and her brother were caught by her uncle as they tried to run away from home.
Salamanca is a city in western Spain and has a history dating back to the Celtic era. The city lies on several hills by the Tormes River and the Old City was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. It is known for its ornate sandstone architecture and the Universidad de Salamanca.
We arrived in Salamanca around lunchtime and decided that we didn’t really want to visit another cathedral of church. So, we headed into the town over the Roman bridge for another free walking tour which began in Plaza Mayor. I think every town in Spain has a Plaza Mayor in the centre.
On our walk we saw:
Plaza Mayor is lined with restaurants, ice cream shops, jewellery stores and tapas bars. Surrounding this are some of the most important buildings of the town.
The Old and New Cathedral
The Old Cathedral and the New Cathedral stand side by side. The Old Cathedral, constructed at the end of the 12th century, has a stunning Gallo Tower. It is closed to the public and only opened during very special occasions. The New Cathedral constructed between the 16th and 18th centuries is one of the last examples of Gothic architecture constructed in Spain.
The interior has fine vaulting, delicate cornices and slender pillars. The vaulted ceilings contain graceful paintings and the sandstone walls are intricately carved.
The façade has some interesting ornate carvings of a dragon eating an ice cream, a crayfish and an astronaut (complete with boots, helmet and breathing apparatus on his back with tubes attached to the front of his suit). The contemporary symbols were added in 1992 during restoration work on the cathedral, when one of the artisans involved in the project chose to carve unusual figures into the stone, as a way of signing their works.
Casa de las Conchas is a stately mansion which is renowned for its main façade which is covered with 300 shells arranged in a quincunx (five points arranged in a cross), following a rhomboidal composition typical of the Mudejar style. There are two theories why the façade is covered in this way: one is it belonged to the Order of Santiago and the other is it was a symbol of nobility.
Although the façade is outstanding, the patio is also striking with a well in the centre and the columns decorated with gargoyles. Inside there is a decorated staircase which leads to the upper floor. This house was built to be used as a family home, but throughout its existence it has had other uses: it was a prison for the University, a barracks and a library.
University of Salamanca was founded in 1134 and was Spain’s first institution of higher learning. The façade of the building is covered with shields, floral designs, chandeliers, festoons and creatures.
The students are presented with a challenge, they must spot the frog on the skull on the façade of the University. If they can spot the tiny frog, they’re sure to have great academic success and pass their exams without a problem. So now even tourists come and stand, stare and point at it and try to find the frog to attract good luck. This is exactly what we did. It took a long time to find it, I needed help, so I guess I will have to find my luck some other way.
So here is the tip: The frog is on top of a skull, at the right side of the façade. But that’s all I’m going to say; you have to go there to check it out!
On the stone walls as you enter the courtyard of the University is red writing which looks like graffiti, but they are signs to let everyone know they have passed their doctorate. This tradition started in the 17th century and continues today. The design consists of a large ‘V’ for victory with the student’s name and date of graduation. The writing on this wall was painted on with bull’s blood – both because a bull, then and now, represents power and dominance in Spain and, also, because the dark red liquid stained the porous sandstone walls enough so that the symbols endured. Today it is very sophisticated and looks professional.
Salamanca Roman Bridge (Puente Romano de Salamanca) is a picturesque 15 stone arched bridge which spans the Tormes River. It was originally constructed in year 89 but was reconstructed after being damaged by flooding in the 17th century. It was the main road into the city until 1973 and is now exclusively for pedestrians. On the Salamanca side is a statue of a stone boar with its head missing which was discovered after the flood believed to be from the mid-4th to 1st centuries BC period.
As we were walking along there was sign indicating the Camino way on the ground with an ‘A’. The guide explained that this was the path a pilgrim followed, and the ‘A’ indicated accommodation for them. The scallop shell is one of the most iconic symbols of the Camino de Santiago and today it is used, along with the yellow arrow, to guide pilgrims heading to Santiago de Compostela along its many different routes. The scallop shell is said to be a metaphor, its lines representing the different routes pilgrims travel from all over the world, all walking trails leading to one point: the tomb of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela.
We finished the walk back in Plaza Mayor which was still a busy place.
Eighty kilometres from Salamanca is Ciudad Rodrigo, close to the Portuguese border in western Castilla y Leon. It is perched atop a rocky rise on the right bank of River Agueda and is known for its Old Town and 12th century walls.
To get into the Old Town from where we camped, we crossed the River Agueda over strategically laid rocks which lead through a beautiful well-maintained park where the locals were out swimming and picnicking.
After walking up the road we reached the fortified Old Town which has a Plaza Mayor (surprise, surprise!) where there are restaurants, cafes, the Casa de los Vázquez, now the main post office, a tourist office and the City Hall which date back to 15th and 16th centuries. The cobble stone streets are quite narrow so only small cars have access through this area.
We walked along the ramparts which were constructed in the 12th century and cover an area of 2 kilometres with seven gates. In the 17th century the walls were rebuilt and reinforced by bastions, ravelins and artillery batteries.
Just outside the town walls is an old bullring but there doesn’t appear to be any information on it.
One of the gates (Puerts de la Colada) leads to the land on which the Castle of Henry II was erected in 1372 and is now a hotel. In the square of the castle is a zoomorphic sculpture of granite, known as the boar of the bridge from the Celtiberian period of the Iron Age.
Also, inside the ramparts is the Cathedral de Santa Maria, a medieval cathedral. Construction commenced around 1165, but the building was not completed until 1550. It is quite large for a town of this size.
We returned to the campsite via the bridge. The campsite was a lovely little stop over to visit a very historic Old Town which has been populated since the Neolithic times.
The next morning we left Ciudad Rodrigo for Toledo.