The city of Helmantika, which would later become Salamanca, was founded in the 4th Century AD by the Celts as a fortress town. The Romans soon took the town during their northern advances. With its ideal location, Helmantika became an important communications link for the Gold Route, a natural passage that, from the antiquity onwards, ran along the east of the Iberian Peninsula. The name Helmantica was changed to Salamantica, which in turn became the Salamanca of today.
Roman bridge in Salamanca, click to enlarge it
In the 8th Century, during the Muslim invasion, Musa Ubh Nusair conquered the city. Throughout the Early Middle Ages, Salamanca was a no-mans land: the area remained practically uninhabited until the battle of Simancas (939), when a few small settlements appeared along the river Tormes; however, only after the reconquest of Toledo by Alfonso VI, in 1085, was the city repopulated; French, Mozarabs, Spaniards, Portuguese, Jews… The first bishop of the diocese of Salamanca was bishop Jerónimo of Perigord, the famous bishop Jerónimo of the Poema de Mío Cid (the Lay of the Cid), who always wore a crucifix into battle.
It was at this point that construction started on Salamanca’s cathedral, whose final stone possibly has still not been laid. The cathedrals are like mythical creatures, which have undergone various mutations throughout the years… Schools began to spread around the original temple, from which grew the university. After the Christian Reconquest, in the 8th Century, King Alfonso IX founded the university of Salamanca, which was ratified by Pope Alexander in 1255.
Salamanca's Cathedral detail, click to enlarge image
In the 15th Century, the city was divided in two: the parish of Saint Benito and the parish of Saint Tome. The tensions between the two became known as the Guera de los Bandos: in one of the numerous confrontations the sons of dame Maria Rodriguez de Monroy “the Brave” died at the hands of a rival family. Maria followed her sons’ murderers as far as Portugal, where she beheaded them and laid their heads on the tombs of her dead sons at the church of Saint Tome in Salamanca.
Thanks to a definitive effort by the Mesta (a powerful association of sheep holders in the medieval Kingdom of Castile), Salamanca became the centre of woollen production and began to export wool. At the end of this century one of the most important cultural events in Spanish history took place in Salamanca: in 1492 Elio Antonio de Nebrija created the first Spanish grammar – the first study of the rules of a western-European language that was not Latin. Also in the 15th Century in Salamanca, the Latin American Beatriz Galindo became the first woman in the world to attend university. She would go on to become Queen Isabel the Catholic’s teacher.
Christopher Columbus proposed his first voyage to America in Salamanca in the 15th Century, where he obtained the support of the Dominican Fathers, who let him stay up in the beautiful convent of San Esteban. The staff of the University of Salamanca met in council to discuss his project, and the astronomer Abraham Zacuto (from Salamanca) became the Genoese navigator’s great scientific supporter.