In the 16th Century Salamanca united under the movement of the Communities of Castilla (1520) against the taxes demanded by King Carlos I. After the defeat of the rebels, Carlos I ordered that the towers of the noble palaces in Salamanca be shortened.
The School of Salamanca, led by Francisco de Vitoria (1483- 1546), began its defence of the rights of the natives of the New World. De Vitoria revised the doctrines on the laws of theology, nature and nations, and laid the foundations of contemporary human law and of international law. Representatives from the School of Salamanca actively participated in the Council of Trent (1545- 1563). Also during the 16th Century, Fray Luis de León, a university professor, was imprisoned by the Inquisition for having dared to translate the biblical ‘song of solomon’. When he was released, he once more took up his classes, beginning “As we were saying yesterday…” The two most important mystical poets of the Spanish Renaissance, Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Ávila, also passed through Salamanca, leaving their mark on the city.
In 1580, in a town of 24,000 inhabitants, the university had more than 6,500 students. It is thought that Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was probably an alumnus of the university of Salamanca, as he makes reference to the city in some of his works. In addition to his short farce La Cueva de Salamanca, are the references to Salamanca by the bachelor Samson Carrasco in Don Quixote de la Mancha and the famous quote in El licenciado Vidriera (the Lawyer of Glass): “Salamanca que enhechiza la voluntad de volver a ella a todos los que de la apacibilidad de su vivienda han gustado.”
Salamanca didn’t escape the general decadence of the 17th Century; however, in the 18th Century it experienced a sort of revival, from a cultural and economic point of view. Perhaps the best example of this is the construction of its impressive plaza mayor, in the baroque style, in 1729. One of the singular most important people in Spanish culture of the 18th Century was born and died in Salamanca: Diego Torres de Villarroel (1694-1770), mathematician, writer, astrologer, medic, and university professor.
During the Peninsular War, the French Army was defeated in the battle of Arapiles (1812). Despite the devastation of certain parts of the town at the hands of the French army – for example the current Salamanca Pontifical University was used as barracks for Napoleon’s troops, who caused much damage-, the real decadence began with the closure of the universities decreed by Fernando VII. When the university of Salamanca reopened it no longer was a universally recognised seat of knowledge, but a small university in a Castilian province.
At the start of the 20th Century, a citizen of Salamanca by adoption, Miguel de Unamuno played an active part in the cultural and political life of the city as Rector of the university between 1900 and 1914. After being exiled, he returned to Salamanca where he died on the 31st December 1936. The Spanish Civil War had begun on the 18th July, and Salamanca was united from the start against the Second Republic of Spain. During the war it was an important city: all the documents obtained by the national troops during the occupation of the country were concentrated in Salamanca. The General Archive of the Spanish Civil War was created, and under Franco it was used to take reprisals against the defeated side. The part of the archive belonging to Catalonia was returned in 2006.
With the establishment of democracy and the arrival of the monarchy in Spain, the prestige of the city and its university rose once more. It was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1988. Despite its demographic stagnation and aging population, Salamanca is a beautiful and emblematic city that has managed to combine cultural heritage and cosmopolitan life, a combination which probably earned the town its title of European City if Culture, along with Brussels, in 2002.
The human race has left its mark on Salamanca, including almost mythical characters that make it hard for us to distinguish between reality and fiction.
It is a city steeped in history and legend, which invites us to listen to the voices and echoes of centuries of history both along its zigzagged streets and inside its incomparable buildings.