Founded by Alfonso IX of Léon in 1218, Salamanca University is the oldest in Spain. Opposite is the statue of Fray Luis de Léon, who taught theology at the university; within, his former lecture room is preserved in its original style. The university’s ancient library houses some 40,000 volumes, while its modern counterpart contains over 165,000.
In its early days it made major contributions to the development of international law, and Columbus sought support for his voyages of discovery from the enlightened faculty of astronomy. The university continued to flourish under the Reyes Católicos, even employing a woman professor, Batriz de Galindo. It resisted the Inquisition but extreme clericalism of the 17th and 18th centuries stifled free thought; books were banned as being a threat to the Catholic faith, and mathematics and medicine disappeared from the curriculum. Decline worsened when Napoleon’s armies demolished twenty of the 25 colleges. Salamanca is still a prestigious seat of learning and runs a highly successful language school.
The premature celebrations are held in the Plaza Mayor (Main Square). This magnificent square was built by Felipe V to thank the city for its support during the War of Spanish Succession, completed in 1755. Once used for bullfights, the square now belongs to shopping arcades, cafés and the people.
This celebration began in 1999 when a group of Salamanca students got together to celebrate the new year early before they parted for home at the end of term. They drank cava and ate sweets while the clock chimed. In subsequent years, more and more students took part and now it is organised by an event co-ordinator and supported by the city hall. The event is broadcast on Castilla y Leon regional TV.