"El Dia del Libro"

Buying magazines and postcards at a bookstall in SalamancaEs un día de fiesta en Salamanca y en toda la región de Castilla y León. Es el día del libro; el cumpleanos de Cervantes y la Plaza Mayor esta llena de librerias.  Tambien es el día de la Communidad de Castilla y Leon entonces todo el mundo tiene un dia de vacaciones.  Holiday for everyone so no classes for us so we had a tour of Salamanca and the cathedrals which was fascinating.

It was decidedly chilly out despite the clear blue sky and the sun; there was a strong, icy breeze and I was totally inappropriately dressed in a summer dress and sandals so ended up buying myself a sweatshirt!

El Grupo Salmantinos in La Plaza Anaya with the Nueva Catedral in the background

I think the best thing to do is write down as many details as I can remember because we heard so much.  I was pleased that I understood most of what our guide, Fernando, told us and even managed to translate for some of the people in our group but it will take a while for me to process all the information and I am sure that over the next few months snippets of what we were told will pop into my head at random moments! 

1. Plaza de Anaya – Nueva Catedral on one side, first college of La Universidad de Anaya on the other; La Facultad de Philologia. 

Girl playing saxaphone sitting on a wall with the Facultad de Philologia in the background

2. Two cathedrals, the new and the old.  The old one was too small so they decided to build another.  The money was given by the king and the plan was to destroy the old one but it took 200 years to build the new one so the old one stayed whilst they built.  The new one was abutted to one wall of the old so in the end they kept both! The new one is 150 metres long and twice as wide as the old as well as being much higher.  here were alos more windows in the new cathedral; the thinking at the time was that the higher the windows, the closer they were to God., it also makes the cathedral much lighter and airier. The old catheral has a beautiful altar painting.  Fernando suggested that it was rather like a cartoon strip that tells the story of the bible.  Given that only the clergy and the nobility coud understand the Latin that was the main language of church services, the rest of the congregation would have sat in ignorance to what was going on.  The altar painting and the stained glass windows provided them with images that they could understand and so kept them interested!

Astronaut carved into the sandstone on the New Cathedral, Salamanca

3. The cathedrals are built of sandstone which is very soft.  This means that it is easy to carve so the designs on the walls of the cathedrals and elsewhere in the city are incredibly intricate.  The area is also know for the silver filigree work and this is also evident in the stone carvings.  However, it doesn’t weather well and erosion of the stone is a problem.  Sections of the stone work have had to be replaced and rather than try to replicate what went before and to differentiate between new and old stonework, they have incorporated new designs.  The original designs would have told the story of the time, they were a testament to the age and so the new designs are the same. Thus we can see an astronaut and a devil eating icecream in the facades close to the doorways of the cathedral. 

Cupula of New Cathedral in Salamanca

4. The new cathedral has a beautiful cupula and tower.  However,  it was seriously damaged as a result of the Lisbon earthquake in 1755.  The Cupula collapsed and had to be rebuilt, the tower too was badly damaged but was shored up with big rocks and mud (according to our guide this is a typical Spanish response to problems – cheap and cheerful!) as a temporary fix until, more recently, stainless steel reinforcement rods were inserted to stabilise the building. Large cracks can be seen all around the building and they are quite disconcerting given the size of the place! 

Looking up to the ceiling of the cathedral in Salamanca

5. The organ is splendid – quite magnificent but they are not sure if it is the original or not!  I got a little confused here but think that he said that it stopped working and didn’t work for a while.. at some point they decided that they should look to getting it fixed as it is so beautiful.  But again – due to the Spanish not wanting to spend too much money they were happy when the Japanese said that they would undertake to renovate it. The Japanese seem to have a propensity to “save” foreign heritage sites – we witnessed the same phenomena in Cambodia in relation to Ankhor Wat.  However, our guide seemed to suggest that they weren’t sure whether the Japanese truly renovated the original or just replaced it with a brand new replica.  He suggested that at some time in the future they may well find a “Made in Japan” stamp on it!

My feet resting against those of the "bishop" - gaining wisdom!

6. Bishop – there is a side chapel where one of the bishops of the cathedral is buried along with other notaries of the cathedral  It was in this chapel that prospective priests would be locked to spend the night before their exam in preparation.  It is said that they would sit in contemplation with their feet pressed against the feet of the statue of the bishop in order that his wisdom be passed through to them!  The next day they would face their examiners in the same chapel and if they passed would emerge victorious to the acclamation of the people waiting at the main door of the cathedral.  If they failed they would be ushered out ignominiously of a side door of the cathedral! 

La Casa de las Conchas - a house with over 500 shells embossed on the wall of the building.  This image alos shows the ornate windows

7. Out of the cathedral now and to La Casa de las Conchas which is a house that vhas over 500 shells decorating it.   It appears, following a little research that there are various theories to explain the shells decorating  the building.  However, I will relate what we were told and let you explore further yourself! The Conch is on the coat of arms of the family of the wife of the man who had the house built.  He came from Salamanca but his wife was from another region.  She was, apparently homesick for her regiosn and her family so he had the house covered in shells as a symbol of his love for her.  It also served, as was the custom of the time, as a symbol of the union of the families. Another story suggests that one of the shells hides a secret stash of the family jewels…..

These are just snippets of the information we were given today – my head is full and whirling and I can only process so much. I just hope that I will remember more as time goes on.

La Plaza Mayor was heaving today – lots of people browsing the book stalls and I had to be strong as I really can’t take books back – they weigh too much! It is Cervantes Birthday and apparently in La Plaza de Espana in Madrid there is an all day reading of Don Quixote!

4 teachers on the bridge with the cathedral spires in the background