The first curious fact about Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor are its measurements because it turns out that the four sides have different lengths but, nevertheless, its balance and harmonious proportions have been praised for the last two and a half centuries.
This beautiful, Baroque and symbolic work was finished between 1755 and 1756. Around the time in which Mozart was born. It was commissioned to Alberto Churriguera, and for its design, they took into account the Plaza Mayor of Madrid. Salamanca was again riding high and wanted a grand and noble urban space to match the prestige of its university.
The Square has 477 balconies and 88 arches, and on each one of the latter, they left room to include a medallion with the effigy of an important figure on the history of Spain. Between Kings, wise men, Saints and artists, faces were added with time, although some of them, like Godoy’s, didn’t last for long. Even Francisco Franco decided that he wanted to be immortalised here, and he awarded himself with a medallion, which from time to time would receive the appropriate signs of affection that, as you know, any dictator’s figure would inspire. So much so, that the medallion was withdrawn in the year 2017.
Interestingly, one of the primary functions of this majestic place was that of the bullring, and many of those bullfights were paid by the students who got their PhD. Not because they wanted to, but the custom forced them to invite the professors to a banquet and, while they were at it, to also pay for the bullfighting festivities.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Square was used as a stage for public executions. And it seems that this place served for all kind of events of justice, life and incidents of Salamanca; it was used for both, the good and the bad things. The intellectual people of the time also met under these arches and spent good hours in cafes such as the Novelty, a corner where characters such as the philosopher and writer Unamuno frequented and where today the statue of the great Gonzalo Torrente Ballester still sits.
So, the Plaza Mayor of Salamanca has seen bullets, kisses, goring, gatherings, students and dictators. It has appeared in movies and novels, and the characters in its medallions have grown tired of hearing songs from the choirs. Everything has happened and happens, in this wonderful quadrilateral which every year celebrates New Year’s Eve a couple of weeks earlier so that the students can party with their friends. An intelligent idea… An idea from Salamanca…