Blog Archives

Famed font brings tradition to modern city

Story by Mackenzie Nichols

SALAMANCA – Look up. Look to the left, to the right. Look under awnings, on store signs, on the ropes that corral people in museums, even on people’s flesh.

Just about everywhere in Salamanca, it’s easy to spot the pervasive red lettering that brands this city, tying its past to its present with a unique and unmistakable red gothic font.

This victor symbol and corresponding text was written in 2005. The victor symbol is more horizontal with the ‘c’ and ‘r’ on either side of the ‘v’ and the ‘s’ of the font is much more slanted.

This Victor symbol and corresponding text was written in 2005. The Victor symbol is more horizontal with the ‘c’ and ‘r’ on either side of the ‘v’ and the ‘s’ of the font is much more slanted.

Known now as simply “Salamanca,” the lettering originated inside the ancient University of Salamanca, where rights of passage were fiercely honored among Spain’s male intellectual elite. Here, inside the stone walls that formed the country’s oldest university, boys who arrived to study subjects such as law, theology, economics and medicine left as men only when they earned the Vitor, a symbol designed around a large “V” for “victory” that would be written onto a wall along with the student’s name and date of graduation.

If that’s not intriguing enough, consider this: The writing was painted on with bull’s blood – both because a bull, then and now, represents power and dominance in Spain, and also because the dark red liquid stained the porous sandstone walls enough so that the symbols endured. Students and teachers would use blood from the corridas, or bullfights, and local meat shops – plentiful here because Salamanca has more bull farms than any other region in Spain.

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Architectural Review: City’s famous golden stone needs repair, protection

Story by Ian Debevoise // Photos by Maria Amasanti

SALAMANCA – Like many squares in Spanish cities, the Plaza Mayor is Salamanca’s epicenter, but there’s an element that distinguishes this centerpiece from those found in any other city in the country.

The City Hall of Salamanca, in the heart of the Plaza Mayor, is made completely out of the Villamayor stone. Salamanca has been dubbed the "Golden City" for the warm glow created by the sun's reflection on the stone.

The City Hall of Salamanca, in the heart of the Plaza Mayor, is made completely out of the Villamayor stone. Salamanca has been dubbed the “Golden City” for the warm glow created by the sun’s reflection on the stone.

Famously known as the “Golden City,” Salamanca is an architectural masterpiece, built with a certain type of blond sandstone found in the deep quarries in the region of Castile-León. The stone in its pure form is a combination of creams and caramel colors that shine gold in the sunlight. After centuries of oxidation and exposure to the elements, though, the high-iron sandstones are deteriorating, giving the buildings and facades of Salamanca a distinctive reddish patina that dominates the aesthetic of the city today.

Recently, with quarries nearly depleted and fears mounting that their beloved city of gold is vulnerable, historians and scholars have been mobilizing to preserve, restore and protect Salamanca’s “Old City” with the help of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Culture Organization, or UNESCO.

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Spotlight on food: Tapas are Spain’s miniature culinary masterpieces

Story by Bryan King // Photos by Maria Amasanti

SALAMANCA – At the bar Don Mauro, on the east side of the bustling Plaza Mayor, Chef Juan Jose Vega Rodriguez carefully lays out the ingredients for the day’s tapas selection.He’s making gazpacho, the traditional Spanish warm-weather dish. The creamy soup is a customer favorite.

“People like it because it’s a seasonal item,” said Rodriguez through a translator. “It’s only for the summer.”

To begin, the chef loads 20 tomatoes into a large silver pot. He tosses in a peeled, whole yellow onion, four cloves of garlic, a peeled cucumber and red bell pepper. Next, Rodriguez adds a quart of olive oil, two cups of water and a handful of salt.

If he looks poised and confident, it’s because this isn’t the first pot of gazpacho for Rodriguez, 38. He studied at Auxiliar de Clinica, where there is an emphasis on nutrition and health, and has been working at this particular restaurant for four years. He is in charge of the kitchen.

With two hands bracing a heavy industrial Bermixer, Rodriguez purees the ingredients and removes the pulp with a cone strainer. The result is hard to resist, a pinkish-red soup that’s smooth, rich and velvety on the tongue and meant to taste the same as it did 800 years ago when it emerged in the cafes and taverns of southern Spain.

Historically, the word tapas means lid, or to cover – as in to use the food as a cover on top of a glass of wine to keep bugs out. Functionally, the concept is to have a small portion of food that can be held in one hand.

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To Spaniards, tapas are not just about convenience. Their presence in everyday Spanish life is part of the country’s cultural mélange of food, drink and socializing.

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Street artists transform, defy and reinvigorate a historic city

Story by Jessica Mendoza

SALAMANCA — On a busy street within sight of the city’s celebrated cathedral, a man in dirty jeans draws on a broken wall. With a practiced stroke, he colors the concrete blue, green, red and yellow; whirls and swirls appear wherever his markers touch.

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Iñaki works on his street piece on Salamanca’s Rua Mayor. Photo by Jessica Mendoza.

Behind him, tourists stroll by. Some stop to take photos.

The man, who uses the pseudonym Iñaki, is one of a growing number of artists whose works are transforming the streets of Salamanca. They use the city’s walls and buildings as their canvas, framing their art opposite the Romanesque churches and Gothic structures that characterize Spain’s oldest university town.

“I like my work. It makes the city beautiful,” Iñaki, 47, said through a translator. “[It’s] free and for everyone to see. I love it.”

But it’s more than aesthetics: Street art is a growing part of Salamanca’s urban landscape. In this staunchly conservative city, more artists are using public space as a platform for their work. Some use it to express their political and religious opinions. Others see it as a mark of defiance and daring. It’s also becoming an avenue for attracting visitors and revitalizing businesses in the city’s less affluent neighborhoods.

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Facing grim employment prospects, Spanish students seek jobs abroad

Story by Amanda Hoover

SALAMANCA – When Maria Abellàn began the long process of earning her degree in medicine, she was more focused on anatomy and physiology than the state of the economy.

Maria Alfonso (left) and Maria Abellan (right) are unsure whether they'll be able to work after finishing medical school in Spain's struggling economy.

Maria Alfonso (left) and Maria Abellàn (right) are unsure whether they’ll be able to work after finishing medical school in Spain’s struggling economy. Photo by Amanda Hoover.

“Every year, more and more people come here to study,” said Abellàn, a medical student at the University of Salamanca. Now just two years away from graduation, Abellàn is facing fierce competition for a job in an economy that can barely support those already in the workforce.

“I think we may go to another country in Europe or the USA to work,” said Abellàn, who, like all university students, is studying for her year-end exams in two weeks. She’s afraid that if she does leave, she’ll be forced to take her exams again in another language.

For the sixth year in a row, the unemployment rate in Spain has been going up. Now at nearly 26 percent overall, Spaniards are suffering and scared. Hardest hit are recent college graduates – more than 57 percent of whom are out of work, according to Eurostat, the statistical arm of the European Union. Many, like Abellàn, are planning to move because there are no options for them in their home country. Still more are what experts describe as “underemployed” – meaning they have jobs they are overqualified for.

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