Salamanca is a city situated in western Spain and is the capital of the Province of Salamanca in the autonomous community of Castile and León. The city lies on several rolling hills by the Tormes River. Its Old City was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. As of 2018, the municipality has a population of 143,978.
It is one of the most important university cities in Spain and supplies 16% of Spain’s market for the teaching of the Spanish language. Salamanca attracts thousands of international students.
The University of Salamanca, founded in 1218, is the oldest university in Spain and the third oldest western university. Pope Alexander IV gave universal validity to its degrees. With 30,000 students, the university is, together with tourism, a primary source of income in Salamanca. It is on the Via de la Plata path of the Camino de Santiago.
One of the most important moments in Salamanca’s history was the year 1218, when Alfonso IX of León granted a royal charter to the University of Salamanca, although formal teaching had existed at least since 1130. Soon it became one of the most significant and prestigious academic centres in Europe. A 1614 painting depicting a lecture at the University of Salamanca.
The 15th century was plagued by social conflict and tensions among the urban elites (a complex development, often oversimplified as an infighting between bandos), with occasional outbursts of grave episodes of violence, conveying a chronic feeling of insecurity.
The late 15th century population has been tentatively estimated at 15,000–25,000. By the turn of the 16th century most of the population dwelled at the right (north) bank of the Tormes, with a small arrabal in the south bank inhabited by roughly 300 people.
During the 16th century, the city reached its height of splendour (around 6,500 students and a total population of 24,000). During that period, the University of Salamanca hosted the most important intellectuals of the time; these groups of mostly-Dominican scholars were designated the School of Salamanca. The juridical doctrine of the School of Salamanca represented the end of medieval concepts of law, and founded the fundamental body of the ulterior European law and morality concepts, including rights as a corporeal being (right to life), economic rights (right to own property) and spiritual rights (rights to freedom of thought and rights related to intrinsic human dignity).
The University of Salamanca was founded in 1134 and in 1218 it was given the royal charter of foundation (“Estudio General”) by Alfonso IX of León. It was the first university to receive the title of “University” in 1254. Under the patronage of the learned Alfonso X, its wealth and reputation greatly increased (1252–1282), and its schools of canon law and civil law attracted students even from the Universities of Paris and Bologna. In the 16th century, the city’s fortunes depended on those of the University. About the time Christopher Columbus was lecturing there on his discoveries, Hernán Cortés took classes at Salamanca, but returned home in 1501 at age 17, without completing his course of study. (About ten years later the conquistador Francisco Vásquez de Coronado was born in Salamanca.)