The University of Salamanca, founded in 1094, has the privilege of being the oldest university in Spain and the second oldest European university in continuous operation. The historical phrases ‘Quod natura non dat, Salmantica non praestat’ (what nature does not give, Salamanca does not provide, in Latin) and ‘Multos et doctissimos Salmantica habet’ (many and very versed Salamanca has) give an idea of the prestige the institution rapidly acquired.
During the conquest of America, inside the walls of the university, the rights of indigenous peoples were discussed, and the peoples themselves recognized as sovereign and independent entities, which was revolutionary for that period. This was a time when some of the brightest minds attended the university and it was known as the School of Salamanca. Its scholars renovated theology, laid the foundations of modern-day law, international law and modern economic science, and actively participated in the Council of Trent. The school’s mathematicians studied the calendar reform commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII and proposed the solution that was later implemented.
By the mid XVIth century, the prestigious and respected city, temple of knowledge, light of European Christianity and dogma, combined learning with leisure and fun without limits or consideration. Along with the ‘Colegios Mayores’ (colleges) and libraries coexisted insane and lustful taverns, bawdy houses of all kinds, and all manner of attacks against the sixth and all other commandments invented and to be invented. The large student population of the Castilian capital, more than eight thousand at the time (quite large if we compare it with the total population of Madrid which was eleven thousand people in this period) cohabited with a wide human world full of professors (uprights, visionaries and occultists), servants, grooms, bartenders, corrupt priests, sandpipers, housekeepers, prostitutes to suit all budgets, hawkers and carnies.
On 12th November 1543, the devout Catholic Felipe II (King of Spain 1556-1598, Portugal 1581-1598, Naples and Sicily 1554-1598 and also England and Ireland jure uxoris during his marriage to Queen Mary I 1554–1558) arrived in Salamanca to marry with his first wife, María Manuela de Portugal. While he was staying there and the city was in full celebratory mood in honour of the magnificent event, the serious-minded young prince discovered with astonishment and consternation the ‘dark’ side of Salamanca. The pious Felipe was so shocked by the lewd and pagan behaviours he saw there that he issued an edict to extend the abstinence from meat during Lent to all carnal matters; and to avoid behaviour which could lead to carnal sin, he ordered the expulsion of all the prostitutes, driving them to the other bank of the Tormes river during Lent and forcing them to stay at least one league away from the city limits.
After the period of abstinence, on the Monday after Easter Monday the harlots returned to Salamanca guided by Father Lucas, a priest in charge of removing all prostitutes from Salamanca before Ash Wednesday, and bringing them back after the period of the ban had ended. The Tormes river was then a witness to the ‘explosion’ of all the basic insticts repressed for six weeks. A big party accompanied with plenty of red wine and organised by the students welcomed the prostitutes on the bank of the river, where the euphoria and the debauchery triggered a big orgy that ussually end in a great collective dip.
Nowadays, the ’Lunes de aguas’ (one Monday after Easter Monday) is a bank holiday in Salamanca and it’s a tradition to go out and eat hornazo, a pie filled with pork loin, chorizo, Serrano ham and boiled egg.