Saturday, July 5, 2014

An adventure down south - next stop, Salamanca

After Wednesday's rains in León nearly cancelled out our afternoon sports, we could only hope that the weather would hold out for Thursday's excursion to the well-known university city of Salamanca. The forecast promised us warmer temperatures (a plus) and a smaller chance of rain (another plus), but needless to say - we left the bus armed with rain jackets, umbrellas and a determination to see all that the city had to offer before the storms chased us back up north.
Our first visit of the day was to one of the city's cathedrals (there are two). Here, students were asked to carefully inspect the more recent additions to the otherwise timeless lateral façade of the cathedral. 
The astronaut, added in the early 1990's and restored in 2010 following an act of vandalism that left him without an arm.
The dragon, which was much easier to spot due to his love of ice cream. 
This is the view of Salamanca from outside the cathedral. The skies were starting to clear and we might just get to see all that we wanted to! 

After checking out the outside of both the new and old cathedrals, students were given the option of exploring the inside, heading up the tower (almost identical to the one not open for public visits in Segovia and boasting incredible interior and exterior views!) or visiting one of the many local shops that cater to natives and visitors alike. I opted to make a trek up the tower with a small group of students. Here is just a bit of what we saw from above. 

Although we were all determined to get to the top, unfortunately, the area beyond the bells was closed. We all agreed that we'd have to come back and get there - one day. 

No, we weren't intimidated by the height. We just wanted to see what else was up there! We wanted the view! 

This really is "a bird's eye" view inside of the cathedral's. The first two pictures are from inside the new cathedral, the third is in the old. 

Our next visit was to the Plaza Mayor, which as Melissa would later explain, was originally used as a bullring. Construction on the Plaza was completed in 1755 and it is known for its irregularity, as none of it's façades measure the same height. While none of the students rushed to get out a tape measure and check for accuracy, they were intrigued by the many "famous faces" used as decoration between the Plaza's numerous arches. 

Although Salamanca is known by many for the university (the oldest in Spain, the 4th oldest in Europe), they city has also played a key role in the development and teaching of the Spanish language. Here is the commemorative monument just past the cathedral. 

After lunch, instructors led students on a walking tour of the city - focusing on the "must see" locations of La Dorada (the Golden City) that would bring the text of their culture class to life. As a follow up to the Plaza Mayor, our next stop was the Casa de Conchas (House of Shells), a gothic-style building that was originally constructed as a university prison and now serves as a public library. 
  The façade, boasting over 350 shells, also holds many legends of buried treasure for those with enough patience and the means to look for it. The building's unique design was reportedly chosen as both a symbol of Santiago (the same type of shell that marks the path of the Camino throughout Spain) and love. The students appreciated the view (and the temporary respite) that the steps of the Catholic University offered as they counted shells and wondered where the rumored ounces of gold were hidden. 

We then made our way back to the new cathedral, where Isra explained the numerous phases of construction and just how the curious, modern adornments of the lateral façade came to be. 
From there, we headed down the narrow streets to the famous university whose façade is, in itself, a legend. Sara briefly explained the school's history, the intimidating statue in the middle of the plaza and just why the students should look up (and to the column at the right!) when facing the university.

 If you look just hard enough, you should be able to see the frog resting atop a skull. This image, a commonly reproduced on every type of souvenir imaginable, is rumored to bring good luck to all students who find it. There's also another, perhaps less endearing rumor, that states that the amphibian is actually a toad (representing women?) that was placed on the skull as a warning to the students, who were all men at the time, that they needed to focus on their studies - and NOTHING else.
  The end of our visit to Salamanca was marked with the students' sightseeing and trivia-filled ginkana (congratulations to our winners Micah, Marcus, Kevin and Jackie H.) and the inevitable encounter with the heavy rain clouds that had followed us throughout the day. 

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