The secrets hidden behind Salamanca’s stone carvings

Sara Rodriguez Romo | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Why is there an astronaut on the gate of an XVIth century cathedral? Why is everybody looking for a frog at the University’s façade? What’s with all the shells on the wall of Casa de las Conchas? This story will help you discover the secrets hidden behind the stone carvings of Salamanca …

© Sara Rodríguez Romo

The frog on the University facade

If you pass by the University of Salamanca, no matter the time of the day, you will always find people at the front facade stretching their necks, and pointing with their arms while trying to find out a little frog carved in stone. I challenge you to find it! According to the tradition, the students who were to start their first year in Salamanca had to find it in order to graduate. However, as you can see in the photo, the façade is really rich in detail. Initially, it represented the concern of the Catholic Kings about education, but some joking sculptor decided to spice up this serious artwork. Five hundred years later, I find his idea genius!

© Sara Rodríguez Romo

The astronaut and the monkey on the cathedral

There was a mail-chain talking about the sculpture of an astronaut on an XVIth century Spanish cathedral. They believed in wonder that the builders could foresee the future. Well, sorry to disappoint you, but no. The gate where the astronaut and the eating-ice-cream monkey are situated was recently restored. Following the success of the nearby frog, it was decided to add an extravagant detail, like an astronaut, a monkey, a rabbit, or a king prawn, on the classic sculptures. Honestly, I believe they got very creative!

© Sara Rodríguez Romo

The House of the Shells

In front of the University Pontificia of Salamanca, there is an ancient palace, hosting now a public library. On its walls, we can find over 300 shells made of stone. According to the tradition, the noble family that owned it had hidden a treasure under one of those shells. They revealed what was hidden, but not exactly where. There are so many shells to look under! Also, you might be wondering...why shells? Well, the owners belonged to the Order of Santiago de Compostela, whose symbol is a shell. It is only a theory, though; there could be multiple explanations. Get inside and go to the first floor. That is the only place where you can admire the façade of the Clerecía, the beautiful church just across the street. As a matter of fact, when it was built, the Jesuits tried to buy the house of the shells to tear it down and leave there a public square, where this beautiful façade could be admired. They offered a few gold coins for each shell, but the owner refused. Plus, he kept the best view of the façade for himself!

© Sara Rodríguez Romo

The House of the Deaths

Every city has a haunted house. Salamanca too! The name of the house leaves nothing to the imagination: “the house of the deaths.” Deaths, in plural! There are many legends about it, but I will tell you here the most famous one. A handsome noble fell in love with a girl from a convent and convinced her to marry him. She agreed, and right after the wedding, he had to go to war. He was such an excellent fighter, and he could not miss it! 

He left in peace, thinking she was very virtuous. And yet, a rumor reached him that she was welcoming many men… to his own house! Full of rage, he came back in secret, and whoever he saw going into his house, he would kill them on their way out. Nobody knew he was back in town, and when the corpses started to pile up around the house, men stopped paying their visits to the lady: it was proven to be fatal! But, alas, there was a young man that wanted to find out what was going on. He was very good with the sword, and when the angered husband attacked him, they fought hard. They inflicted each other with a fatal injury. The lover stayed on the street, but the husband still managed to go upstairs, strangle his cheating wife, and die over her body. 

© Sara Rodríguez Romo

Wow, that was a tough one! Anyway, after that, the house was haunted by the spirits of so many killed people. There were stories about assassinations happening there until only a few decades ago! Hence, by the XXth century, nobody wanted to live there anymore. Therefore, the city of Salamanca had to take this place over and restore it. Today you can admire the stone skulls at the façade, under the windows- a creepy reminder of all the deaths that occurred inside the house!

Yes, Salamanca is a city full of legends and stories. When you walk in the streets, always pay attention to the figures on the stones. They were chosen very carefully for a reason. I revealed some of the secrets hidden behind them. Will you be able to discover the rest?

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