The history of Salamanca is closely linked to the art, culture and historical heritage of Spain and the entire West. Not in vain has it witnessed innumerable historical events of the highest importance.
It was the place where the first Castilian grammar was created, the place where the preparations took place for the voyage of Columbus, the city where the rights of the American Indians were formulated during the conquest, and home to the first female university student in the world (Beatriz Galindo) and the first female university professor in the world (Luisa de Medrano), both at the University of Salamanca.
The first organized human settlement dates back to the 10th century BC. From there, a tribe was forged, and then a somewhat more organized chiefdom over the centuries on the area of the current San Isidro hill.
In 220 BC, Hannibal conquered the city, which already had a fortification and a defensive moat and which at that time was called Helmántica.
It was an enclave of high strategic value and with some geomorphological characteristics that made it ideal for territorial defence.
After the Second Punic War, the Roman troops overtook the city, which was chosen early on as an essential enclave for communication with the rest of the provinces.
After the fall of the Roman Empire and the sacking of the Visigoths, the city was conquered by Muslim troops in the year 712. At that time, Salamanca was used as an unimportant urban centre. This situation remained for 200 years until Salamanca was reconquered by Christian troops in the year 939.
The Middle Ages
After the reconquest, the city experienced a somewhat unstable repopulation due to the continuous Muslim skirmishes and the internal fights between the Christian kingdoms. This lasted until Alfonso VI achieved total stability in 1085.
The majority population within the repopulation was represented by mountain rangers who were professionals in both livestock and war.
In a short time, the city overflowed its natural limits and spread, being divided into clans that controlled political, military, economic, commercial and academic/secular power.
This structure helped the city fortify itself for defence, and the diocese received a boost in academic and pedagogical matters. Slowly, Salamanca was becoming the great city of learning and knowledge in all of Spain.
However, the same social division that helped stabilize Salamanca was becoming a source of instability due to political and economic control. This gave rise to continuous altercations and armed episodes between the clans throughout the 15th century and part of the 16th century.
The city of knowledge and the great decadence
The arrival of the 16th century meant the maximum splendour of Salamanca thanks to its fame as a university city and the immense prestige of its teaching staff. By 1580, out of a population of 24,000 inhabitants, there were more than 6,000 students – something spectacular for the time.
This well-deserved fame grew over the decades. By the 18th century, Salamanca was experiencing a true economic, academic and cultural renaissance that resulted in spectacular cathedrals, monumental buildings and the sustained growth of its university.
However, this magnificent splendour suffered a serious setback when French troops invaded Spain and took Salamanca in 1809.
Under the Napoleonic occupation, when troops razed valuable sites to create defensive barriers, the city suffered terrible damage to its university campus and many of its heritage-valued town centres. Added to this ruinous situation was the disastrous decision of Ferdinand VII to close the universities throughout Spain.
Throughout the 19th century, Salamanca was the scene of turbulent events that affected its quality of life, especially after the proclamation of the first republic and its subsequent overthrow.
The city experienced a slight recovery thanks to the appearance of the railway and its designation as provincial capital, which improved the socioeconomic situation. However, the period of decline would increase during the 20th century after the crash of 1929 and the arrival of the Civil War, when Salamanca fell into Francoist hands.
Rebirth and the future
Franco's victory was another serious setback for Salamanca, the cradle of Spanish knowledge and culture. The arrival of democracy was necessary for the city to recover its former brilliance and splendour. Its universities were relaunched and developed like never before.
In 1988, Salamanca was designated a World Heritage Site in recognition of its immense cultural and academic value. However, not until 2002 did it reach the height of its glory when it was designated the European House of Culture.
At present, Salamanca represents a unique example of "cultural tourism," receiving hundreds of thousands of students from all over the world each year thanks to its famous universities, magnificent libraries and spectacular buildings of significant heritage and historical value, as well as its innumerable cultural exchanges with the best universities in the world.