1902 Encyclopedia > Salamanca (capital), Spain

Salamanca (capital)

SALAMANCA (Salmantica, Elmantica), the capital of the above province, lies on the banks of the Torines, 172 miles north-west of Madrid by rail. The river is here crossed by a bridge 500 feet in length built on twenty-six arches, fifteen of which are of Roman origin, while the remainder date from the 16th century. The town was of importance in times as remote as 222 B.C., when it was captured by Hannibal from the Vettones ; and it afterwards became under the Romans the ninth station on the Via Lata from Merida to Zaragoza. It passed successively under the rule of the Goths and the Moors, till the latter were finally driven out about 1055. The city is still much the same in outward appearance as when its tortuous streets were thronged with students. The university was naturally the chief source of wealth to the town, the population of which in the 16th century numbered 50,000. Its decay of course reacted on the townsfolk, but it fortunately also arrested the process of modernization, so that the city retains most of its old features and is now one of the most picturesque in Spain. The ravages of war alone have wrought serious damage, for the French in their defensive operations at the siege almost destroyed the western quarter. The ruins still remain, and give an air of desolation which is not borne out by the real condition of the inhabitants, however poverty-stricken they may appear. The magnificent Plaza Mayor, built by Andres Garcia de Quinones at the beginning of the 18th century, and capable of holding 20,000 people to witness a bullfight, is one of the finest squares in Europe. It is surrounded by an arcade Of ninety arches on Corinthian columns, one side of the square being occupied by the municipal buildings. The decorations of the facades are in the Renaissance style, and the plaza as a whole is a fine sample of plateresque architecture. But the old and new cathedrals (see below) 're the chief objects of interest in the city.

In the Middle Ages the trade of Salamanca was not insignificant, and the stamped leather-work produced there is still sought after. Its manufactures are now of little consequence, and consist of china, cloth, and leather. The transport trade of the town is, however, of more importance, and shows signs of increasing. But any great revival can only take place when communication with the coast is considerably improved, a result which will no doubt be promoted by the recent opening of the line to the coast of Portugal. The population within the municipal boundaries in 1877 was 18,007, and in 1886 was estimated at about 20,000.

The old cathedral is a cruciform building of the 12th century, begun by Bishop Geronimo, the confessor of the Cid. Its style of architecture is that Late Romanesque which prevailed in the south of France, but the builder showed much originality in the construction of the dome, which covers the crossing of the nave and tran- septs. The inner dome is made to spring, not from immediately above the arches, but from a higher stage of a double arcade pierced with windows. The thrust of the vaulting is borne by four massive pinnacle; and over the inner dome is an outer pointed one covered with tiles. The whole forms a most effective and graceful group. On the vault of the apse is a fresco of Our Lord in Judgment by Nicolas Florentino. The reredos, which has the peculiarity of fitting the curve of the apse, contains fifty-five panels with paintings mostly by the same artist. There are many fine monuments in the south transept and cloister chapels. An adjoining building, the Capilla de Talavera, is used as a chapel for service according the Mozarabic rite, which is celebrated there six times a year. bOn the north of and adjoining the old church stands the new cathedral, built from designs by Juan Gil de Ontarion. Begun in 1513 under Bishop Francisco de Bobadilla, but not finished until 1734, it is a notable example of the late Gothic and Plateresque styles. Its length is 390 feet and its breadth 160 feet. The interior is fairly Gothic in character, but on the outside the Renaissance spirit shows itself more clearly, and is fully developed in the dome. Everywhere the attempt at mere novelty or richness results in feebleness. The main arch of the great portal consists of a simple trefoil, but the label above takes an ogee line, and the inner arches are elliptical. Aboveothe doors are bas-reliefs, foliage, &c., which in exuberance of desirrn and quality of workmanship are good examples of the latest efforts of Spanish Gothic. The church contains paintings by Navarrete, Becerra, and Morales, and some overrated statues by Juan de Juni. The treasury is very rich, and amongst other articles possesses a custodia which is a masterpiece of goldsmith's work, and a bronze crucifix, of undoubted authenticity, which was borne before the Cid in battle. The tower is too unsafe to allow of the ringing of its great bell, which weighs over 23 tons. The interest of Salamanca centred in its university, founded by Alfonso IX. about 1200 and for four centuries one of the chief seats of European learning. Of the university buildings the façade of the library (80,000 volumes, exclusive of MSS.) is a peculiarly rich example of late 15th-century Gothic. The cloisters are light and elegant ; the grand staircase ascending from them has a fine balustrade of foliage and figures. The Colegio de Nobles Irlandeses, formerly Colegio de Santiago Apostol, was built in 1521 from designs by Ibarra. The double arcaded cloister is a fine piece of work of the best period of the Renaissance. The Jesuit College is an immense and ugly Renaissance building begun in 1614 by Juan Gomez de Mora. The Colegio Viejo, also called San Bartolorne, was rebuilt in the 18th century, and now serves as the governor's palace. The convent of Santo Domingo, sometimes called San Esteban, shows a mixture of styles from the 13th century onwards. The church is Gothic with a plateresque façade of great lightness and delicacy. It is of purer design than that of the cathedral ; nevertheless it shows the tendency of the perioll. The reredos, one of the finest Renaissance works in Spain, contains statues by Salvador Carmona, and a curious bronze statuette of the Virgin and Child on a throne of champleve enamel of the 12th century. The chapter-house, built by Juan Moreno in 1637, and the staircase and sacristy are good examples of later work. The convent of the Augustinas Recoletas, begun by Fontana in 1616, is in better taste than any other Renaissance building in the city. The church is rich in marble fittings and contains several fine pictures of the Neapolitan school, especially the Conception by Ribera over the altar. The convent of the Sancti Spiritu has a good door by Berruguete. There is also a rather effective portal to the convent of Las Dulles. The church of S. Marcos is a curious circular building with three eastern apses; and the churches of S. Martin and S. Matteo have good early doorways. Many of the private houses are untouched examples of the domestic architecture of the prosperous times in which they were built. Such are the Casa de las Conchas, the finest example of its period in Spain ; the Casa de la Sal, with a magnificent courtyard and sculptured gallery ; and the palaces of Maldonado, Monterey, and Espinosa. (H. B. B.)

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Salamanca (province), Spain

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