Salamanca History Facts and Timeline

(Salamanca, Castilla y León, Spain)

Spain's most important university city, Salamanca, has a history stretching back well before the arrival of the Romans.

It has played pivotal roles in several of the major events that shaped the Iberian Peninsula, from the struggle between Christians and Moors to the Spanish Civil War. The city has a heady mix of university culture and stunning architecture.

The Roads of Rome

Though the history of Salamanca begins with the Celtic tribe known as the Vacceos, it rose to prominence when the Romans made their presence known in the 3rd century BC. At that time, it was called Helmantica, being an important hub of Roman commerce based alongside the Via de la Plata road. This artery connected Merida with Astorga. Of interest, the 1st-century Roman bridge that was part of this road still stands in Salamanca today.

Christians versus Moors

In the year of 712 AD, Salamanca surrendered to the Moorish force headed up by Musa bin Nusayr, the general who led the conquest of Visigoth-controlled Iberia. The history of Salamanca during the three centuries that followed was one of constant conflict between the Christian north and the Muslim south.

A Depopulated City

The entire region was one of the main battlefields between the Muslim Al-Andalus rulers and the kingdoms of Leon and Castile. For decades the fighting raged on, essentially decimating the population of Salamanca and reducing it to little more than a backwater settlement. It wasn't until the end of the Battle of Simancas in 939 AD that the Christians felt secure enough to return to this area.

The Rebirth of the City

When Alonso VI the Brave, King of Leon and Castile, gained control of Toledo in 1085, the tide finally turned against the Moors in Iberia. Within a few years, most of Spain was under Christian control and Salamanca began to rebuild with purpose. Raymond of Burgundy, a major player in the royal family of Castile, led the resettlement of the city in 1102.

A University City is Born

The most important event in Salamanca's history came in 1218 when King Alonso IX of Leon gave a royal charter to the University of Salamanca. Though the university had been teaching since the second quarter of the 12th century, the royal charter transformed it into one of Europe's most prestigious centres of learning and debate.

Spain's oldest university, and Europe's third-oldest, the University of Salamanca remains the driving force of the city today. The city reached the apex of its glory during the 16th century, when the leading lights of scholars from across Europe lived here.

Centre of War

When Spain fought France in the Peninsular War of Napoleon, the 1812 Battle of Salamanca proved a defining moment in the eventual retreat of the French. The city also suffered dearly, with most of its western quarter severely damaged.

The Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939) also thrust Salamanca into the history books, when the city sided with the Nationalists and was briefly used as their capital. The national troops stored all of Spain's official documents here, creating a huge historic archive of the Civil War that remains today.

When democracy was finally restored to Spain, the city returned to its role as the country's centre of academia. UNESCO declared the Old City a World Heritage Site in 1988, to honour the rich cultural heritage that Salamanca has experienced over its lifetime.