You probably won’t want to visit Salamanca in August, when the scorching midday makes even the lizards dash across the plazas in search of a sliver of shade. But at any other time, this is a stroller’s city, where new delights catch the eye at every turn. The Plaza Mayor ★★★ is the heart of the community, and in true academic fashion, it embodies the conflicting spirits of Spanish intellect. José Benito Churriguera’s design of the square is rational, cool, and neoclassical—but the decoration is utterly Baroque. Salamantinos gather here at all hours of the day and night to connect with each other, to talk, and (most of all) to eat and drink. When the sun sets and the stone plaza begins to cool, cafe tables spill out from beneath the arcades and “tunas” (student singers in old-fashioned academic cloaks) wander from table to table singing for tips.

About a quarter of the old city is devoted to buildings of the University of Salamanca, which reached its apex of influence in the 15th and 16th centuries but remains one of Spain’s most prestigious centers of scholarship. Courtyards around university buildings are generally open to the public, and the Patio de Escuelas Menores is a popular gathering point for tour groups as well as Salamantinos. Standing proudly in the center is a statue of 16th-century poet and scholar Fray Luis de León, the city’s poster boy for intellectual freedom and defiance of tyranny. Imprisoned for 4 years by the Inquisition for translating the Biblical “Song of Solomon” into Castilian, the scholar began his first lecture after returning to the classroom, “Decíamos ayer . . . ,” or “as we were saying yesterday. . . .”


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