The University of Salamanca has a fantastic academic reputation. It was founded in 1218, making it the oldest university in Spain, and the fourth-oldest in Europe. As a result of its prestige, it attracts many exchange and foreign students, lending it an international, multicultural atmosphere.
The University has been pioneering in many aspects: it debated for the rights of the indigenous populations during the Spanish conquest of the Americas, and was also the first university in the world to accept female students. Famous alumni include Miguel de Cervantes (one of Spain’s greatest writers and author of Don Quixote) and Hernán Cortés (the first conquistador that was responsible for the fall of the Aztec Empire). It takes in a total of 30,000 students per year and offers over 250 academic programs.
There is no doubt that the University of Salamanca is a leading authority regarding the teaching of the Spanish language. It is widely acclaimed for its Spanish teaching to foreigners and has been providing courses since 1929. Nowadays, it attracts over 4000 foreign students of Spanish per year. Additionally, the University itself sets and marks the yearly DELE exams (Diploma of Spanish as a Foreign Language Spanish- the official certification of Spanish language proficiency worldwide).
The University is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities. Spanish courses take place in the centre of Salamanca’s old town, in the Escuelas Menores building, which is equipped with modern technology. This includes audio-visual equipment to enhance students’ language learning experience.
Although the city of Salamanca is small, with only 170,000 inhabitants, the fact that it is a university town means that the student presence is high and there is a good infrastructure and plenty to do as a result. The majority of people are aged between 18 and 30, and the nightlife, restaurants, bars and shops cater towards the student lifestyle and of course student budgets. As such, Salamanca is a fairly inexpensive city: a coffee will cost €1.50 and an average meal approximately €7.
You can also easily find Spanish students interested in language exchange where you can switch between helping a Spanish student learn English and learn Spanish from a Spanish student
Salamanca is home to charming historic attractions and stunning architecture; the old city was named as a UNESCO World Heritage sight in 1988. As the city is small, it is easy to reach everything by foot and lends itself to walking. The majority of its sights of interest are museums, palaces, religious buildings and squares. The fact that most are built out of sandstone has given Salamanca the nickname of ‘La Dorada’, or the ‘Golden city’ as a result of the golden glow the architecture bestows on the city.
Some of the top sights are:
Plaza Mayor: this is the main square, the bustling hub of the city. It is filled with cafés, restaurants and shops. One of the most well-known squares in the country, it is the ideal spot for people-watching, sipping on a coffee, buying souvenirs, or grabbing a bite to eat. At night, the plaza is lit up and looks magical.
The Cathedrals: unusually, Salamanca has two cathedrals: the Old Cathedral and the New Cathedral. Both are located next to one another and are connected. The Old Cathedral is a Romanesque-style building, built in the 14th century. Construction of the New Cathedral started the following century due to the large numbers of students flooding into the city to study at the University. The New Cathedral was constructed in Gothic and Plateresque styles, and was finished in 1733.
Casa de las Conchas: The House of Shells is a Gothic-style building that was completed at the end of the 15th century. The outside of this building is beautifully decorated with over 300 shells.
The University buildings: the buildings themselves are main attractions. The University entrance is built in a Plateresque style and it is now tradition for people to try and spot the frog carved amongst the intricate designs- legend has it that it is said to bring luck to the students that spot it and ensure that they will pass their exams.
Patio de las Escuelas: here you can find a statue of Fray Luis de Leon (a writer, one of the university’s most famous alumni).
Casa Lis Art Nouveau and Art Deco Museum: constructed in 1995, this museum comprises 2500 pieces and 19 collections, spanning the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The museum is partially made of stained glass.
In Salamanca, the Castilian accent is spoken, which is widely regarded as the clearest Spanish accent and therefore the easiest to understand, because every single letter is pronounced (in comparison with some Spanish and Latin American dialects where consonants are dropped and words run together).
Other regions of Spain speak other regional languages, such as Galician, Catalan or Basque. As Salamanca does not have its own regional language, students will be fully immersed in Spanish only. Students studying in Salamanca will find it easy to understand the accent and as such will pick up a clear sounding Castilian accent.
Salamanca has a rich and vibrant history. Originally founded by Celts in 4th century BC, it was then conquered by the Romans, and then subsequently by the Moors in the 8th century. In the 13th century, followed the Reconquista, it was named Salamanca. The University was founded in 1218 by King Alfonso IX.
After the University was established, Salamanca grew to be an important location within the country. During the so-called ‘golden period’ in the 16th century, the town’s infrastructure and architecture developed, funded by the wealth coming in from the Spanish conquest of the Americas.
During the Spanish Civil War, Franco’s headquarters were located in Salamanca. After democracy was restored, the city began to rebuild and flourished once more, becoming the city it is today. Recently, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as the European Capital of Culture in 2002.