Archive for Plaza Mayor




Salamanca is far from unknown as a destination for travelers in Spain – but like Toledo, lack of time or knowledge can mean that most people hit only the high points and miss some very interesting sights. Yes, this city can be “done” in a day from Madrid if you hurry, but with a little more time you can see a lot more, and you can make your return visits with Aunt Gertie, cousin Joe, or college roomate Amy more interesting for you – and for them – if you have some tricks up your sleeve.

So this article is a quick guide to some of the lesser-known sights – and less about the major sights because they’re so easy to discover.

Must-see number one: Of course you should see the Cathedrals – note the plural as Salamanca has two Cathedrals side by side, a fantastic lesson in architecture that spans six centuries. Don’t miss the old Cathedral (to the right of the new), including the cloister where the University held exams before their buildings were completed. Jazz up this classic visit: Outside the new Cathedral you must look for the astronaut and the devil with something surprising in his hand – they’re around the north door and even for kids are much easier to find than the famous frog on the University façade. Incongruous on this 16-18th c building, they were added during a restoration in the 1990’s as a sort of signature and statement that work had been done in modern times.

Another unusual view of the Cathedrals is from the square behind the old Cathedral (photo to left). There you can see the fairy-tale turrets around the scaled dome of the old Cathedral, the rooster weathervane – and appreciate the difference in size between the two buildings and how they literally share a wall.

Cathedral add-on, in my opinion a must-see:  The roof / towers.  Entrance is on south side of the old Cathedral (opposite side from the new), takes you up and up the very top of the belltower. On the way you see the old bell-ringers quarters, birds-eye view inside both Cathedrals from the foot, entire length of the naves, and a wander on parts of the rooftop walkways.  Information panels in all the right stopping places (and more!).  Yes, lots of stairs and some a little uneven or narrow, but worth it unless physical issues would make it impossible or torturous.  Not for anyone with fear of heights (obviously).  Idea:  try to be at top of the belltower on the hour for a big-ring (10-12?), or not, it could be really loud!

Continue your wanders down to the river to see the Roman bridge spanning the Tormes river. The fifteen arches closest to the city are 1st century Roman and the rest rebuilt in the 16th century. In Roman times Salamanca was a stop on the “Silver Way” from the Roman gold mines in the north all the way south to Sevilla, now this route is one of the alternative Roads of St. James – you can spot bronze shells in the city pavement if you look a bit. Walk across the bridge and look back for an interesting view of the city, including part of the old city walls (wall sleuths: it’s easy to imagine the line of the city walls looking at a map. Hint: Puerta Zamora was the north gate).

Also from the river, a bit to the east of the bridge, you can see the back view of the Casa Lis. This Art Nouveau-Art Deco museum is a real surprise in 15-16th century Salamanca and is a must-see for anyone interested in early 20th century art, both for the building itself and for the excellent collection of dolls, toys, bronze and ivory statues and glassware. Fabulous gift shop. The entrance to this museum is near the back side of the old cathedral.  Doesn’t sound like your thing? Think again! Get a preview here

The other must-do is University (one of the oldest in Europe) including the the façade, where tradition dictates that you find the lucky frog – a tough job on the ornately carved Plateresque (silversmith) style section over the door, but there is almost always someone there who can help.

Head back towards Salamanca’s famous Plaza Mayor on Rua Mayor with a quick stop at the Casa de las Conchas – the shell-studded outside is great but if open, you should also go inside to see the patio – note the “mixtilinear” arch typical of Salamanca’s palaces. If you want a less transited route back to the main square, continue north on Compañia street then take Meléndez to the right – this route has fewer tourists than Rua Mayor and a number of small restaurants and stores.

Salamanca’s 18th century Plaza Mayor (main square) was used as a bullring for around 100 years. Like Madrid’s main square, Salamanca’s square is a symentrical and completely enclosed. There are lots of outdoor cafés but beware! they’re much more expensive than cafés just a few blocks away.

Market: If you like food (who not?) or just want a glimpse of local life, check out the main market, right next to the Plaza Mayor on the east side. Be sure to walk around the outside of the market as well as going inside. Get more info (schedule, etc) at

If you still have time you might want to try to see San Marcos church at the north end of calle Zamora, 10-15 minutes walk from the Plaza Mayor on a pedestrian shopping street. This 12th century Romanesque church is a personal favorite: completely round, probably as a defense strategy as it was just inside the city walls. If you’re lucky enough to find it open (usually only for Mass), note how three naves are created in this small and ususually shaped space.

Tourist information for Salamanca: Look for the link about visiting times (horarios de monumentos) , especially for the more unusual sights (at present it’s towards bottom of home page under Oficina de Turismo on-line, but they redesign web every now and then). Once in the city, you can get a good basic map and ask questions at the tourism offices in the Plaza Mayor.

Getting to Salamanca: There’s very good public transportation to Salamanca – both train and bus. Take care when purchasing as there are fast and slow options for both train and bus, evident on schedules. Relevant websites: for train and for bus.

A Saint for Desperate Causes

Door of Santa Cruz church

Door of Santa Cruz church


Got a big issue in your life? Something that looks almost impossible?

San Judas Tadeo is specialized in difficult causes. Maybe he can help.

This is one is one of Madrid’s favorite saint-statues, almost as popular as Jesus de Medinacelli (Plaza de Jesus 2, go on Friday).

And with good reason: Judas Tadeo is the saint of urgent, difficult and desperate causes, sometimes called “the lawyer of the impossible”. He’s a favorite in many Catholic areas, and Madrid is no exception: on his special days long lines form outside Santa Cruz church, and visits increase just before Christmas, possibly with people asking for a big lottery win.

Judas Tadeo is the “good Judas”, usually named in Spanish with a second name to differentiate him from Judas Iscariot, of the famous thirty pieces of silver. In English he’s usually called St. Jude, without the second name Tadeo used in Spanish (Thaddeus in English).


Judas was one of Jesus’ twelve apostles and probably first cousin to Jesus on both sides. Tradition tells us that after Jesus’ death, Judas Tadeo and Simon went to Persia with to spread the new religion. He was so convincing that an important general, the King and part of the court converted, but that very success caused their downfall. After yet another demonstration of their power over the forces of nature, priests to the sun and moon killed them by crushing then cutting off their heads with an ax. Tradition says their bodies were later taken to Rome where they are venerated in St. Peter’s Basilica.

So how to make a request to the lawyer of the impossible? There’s a specific ritual to ask San Judas Tadeo for special favors: recite his prayer nine Wednesdays (google “ Glorioso Apóstol San Judas Tadeo!, pariente y seguidor de Jesús” for full text) plus the Lord’s Prayer and Ave Maria, among other actions. Or maybe: just go to the church and light a mini-lamp in front of his statue.

Lest this suggestion sound odd to non-Catholics, let me clarify: I’m not Catholic and not terribly religious, but I do give thanks, make requests and send messages to loved ones far away or passed away. That might be in a forest or by a stream, but it’s frequently in churches that feel special. Lighting a candle is a nice way to focus your wishes and send them on their way.

Yes, I made a request to San Judas Tadeo. Will you?

Where: Calle Atocha 6, just east of the Plaza Mayor. Go in the door and turn right; San Judas Tadeo shares the first chapel on that side of the church, and is the first statue you see, with mini-lamps in front of the statue labeled with his name (take some small coins).

When to go: The special days are all Wednesdays of the year, and the 28th day of all months; San Judas Tadeo saint’s day is October 28, so 28th is a special day. The church stays open all day on Wednesdays, instead of closing several hours in the afternoon. For more information go to:

Statue: The statue is made of birch wood, dates from 1989 and holds an ax as a symbol of his martyrdom.

Santa Cruz church: Madrid lore tells us there was a Santa Cruz chapel nearby from very early times, in a neighborhood outside the walls at the start of the road southeast to Atocha country chapel and on towards Valencia. Historically the immediate predecessor of the current church was built late in the 15th c and torn down in 1868 after two fires in the 17th c. That church had a very tall tower known as Madrid’s Lookout, so perhaps the tall brick tower of the current church inherits that tradition (see plaque on the sidewalk on other side of Atocha street, corner Bolsa street for exact location of previous Santa Cruz church).

After the church was torn down, Santa Cruz parish moved across Atocha street to Santo Tomás church, a Dominican order convent and school built in the middle of the 17th century. Santo Tomás had bad luck from the start: fires in the 17th and 18th c, structural issues, expropriation by the state in the 19th century and finally two fires in the 1870’s that almost destroyed the building, which was torn down shortly afterwards.

The Santa Cruz church we see today was built 1889 – 1902 on the site of Santo Tomás convent. Like many churches in Madrid, the interior was mostly destroyed in the Civil War, though part of the parish records for births, marriages and weddings date were saved and back to the 16th century.

Tips for your visit:
If you want to visit the church, don’t go when church services are in progress (schedule on the website).

Walk around to see the other chapels and other saints. St. James (Santiago) is there wearing his pilgrim robe, and another Madrid favorite saint San Antonio de Padua “El Guindero” (the cherry-man). Both are on the right, Santiago a statue in a shared chapel and San Antonio with painted altar-screen instead of a statue. Most of the June San Antonio celebration is at San Antonio chapel on Paseo de la Florida (outdoor party on days around June 13), but part is at Santa Cruz church as home to the San Antonio brotherhood and owner of the painting telling the legend of the farmer, cherries spilled from a donkey’s saddlebags and the Franciscan monk (San Antonio) who helped him collect the fallen fruit.

Several of the chapels hold the pasos (statues on platforms carried in the street during Easter week). Santa Cruz has two Good Friday processions. The traditional routes are among the best in Madrid: one through the streets of the old city, including calle del Codo, Plaza de la Villa and return through the Plaza Mayor. The second route loops east through Puerta del Sol, calle Mayor and also returns through the Plaza Mayor.