Salamanca is an old city in Spain, known for its beautiful buildings and its universities.
It was founded in pre-Roman times (we’re talking BC here) by Celtic tribes and since then it has been an important commercial and academic hub.
Nowadays the city enjoys its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site awarded in 1988 bringing a lot of tourism and its relaxed ambiance due to the thousands of students who attend its universities.
Salamanca has many hidden gems, but I will concentrate on the mysterious carvings in two of its most renowned buildings.
Here we go:
Mysterious carving 1: The frog.
Students of University of Salamanca, the oldest in Spain and third oldest in the world, are greeted with the old legend of the frog on the skull. It is presented as a challenge, that the students must spot the frog on the skull on the façade of the University, otherwise they will not be able to graduate as doctors.
Tourists visit, stare and point at it and try to find it to attract good luck.
So two issues arise: One, finding the frog and two, understanding why it’s there.
Let’s find the frog
When you visit the University you go to a small plaza and see its main piece: La Puerta de Salamanca, the University’s façade. It’s a plateresque design carved out of stone, with a highly decorative style and intricate carvings.
The façade was built during the 16th century, commissioned in 1529 by the Catholic Kings, though the university itself was built in 1134, so Middle Ages, here.
It’s so much fun to watch other tourists try to find it, looking up to the high carvings.
So here is the spoiled tip: The frog is on top of a skull, at the right side of the façade. But that’s all I’m going to say, you have to go there to check it out!
Or, can you spot the frog in this picture?
What is the meaning of the frog?
It seems that the skull would represent Prince Juan (son of the Catholic Kings), who died in 1497 before turning 20, despite the many efforts of his doctor. The frog would represent the physician who treated him, Doctor Parra, giving the frog its nickname of “Parrita” (Little Parra).
Here’s a video with an explanation of all the iconography of the façade (Spanish).
Mysterious carving 2: The Astronaut.
Salamanca has two cathedrals, the old and the new. The Old Cathedral was built in the 12th century in the Romanesque style and it is dedicated to Saint Mary of the See. It is closed to the public and only opened during very special occasions. You can get a glimpse of it when visiting the New Cathedral’s permanent exhibition: Ieronimus.
For some time there were numerous debates online about the fact that one of the carvings is decidedly an astronaut. There were no astronauts back in the 18th century, so what the…
The Astronaut is hidden in the carvings of the lateral entrance of the cathedral. Can you find it here?
How about a close up so that you can find it easier?
Cute, huh? But how and why did it get there? Let’s move on to the next mystery carving.
Mysterious carving 3: The Ice-Cream Eating Gargoyle.
That’s right, to make it even more mysterious, there’s a gargoyle clearly eating an ice-cream cone and kind of laughing at you, very close to the astronaut.
Here’s that picture again, can you spot it?
How about a close up?
Neat, huh? It turns out both the astronaut and the gargoyle are details added by the craftsmen in charge of doing some restoration work on the Cathedral in 1992. It seems it’s a regular practice of these workers to “sign” their works with some interesting details. Jerónimo García, chief restorer chose the astronaut as a symbol of the 20th century and it’s said that the gargoyle represents the students.
Can you spot the astronaut and the gargoyle now?
Salamanca has a lot to offer and I’ll make sure I speak more about it in future posts. The “hidden” carving are some of those neat and intriguing factoids to amuse tourists that you sometimes find in your travels.
Salamanca can be explored on foot
When planning a trip to Salamanca, remember that downtown is gorgeous and not too big. You can walk from one place to another easily.
The University of Salamanca is quite near the Cathedral, as it shows in the map below.
From Plaza Mayor (the main square in Salamanca, as it’s the Spanish tradition, point A on the map marks one of the entrances to the Plaza) walking to the University of Salamanca (point B on the map) is a short five minute stroll.
Find the statue of Fray Luis de León and in front of it, the façade. Look for the frog and then walk two more minutes to find the Cathedral (point C on the map), though walk a little bit more towards Colegio de Anaya, to find the lateral door where the astronaut and the gargoyle are.
Have you been to Salamanca before? Did you find the frog? Did it bring you luck?
Did you know about the astronaut before, or did you miss it on your last visit?
Tell us about your experience in the comments field!
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