The capital city of Madrid is home to many famous museums. El Museo del Prado houses art by El Greco, Velázquez, Goya, and other European artists. The Reina Sofía has contemporary art, including Picasso’s Guernica and paintings by Salvador Dalí. Major sites include the Royal Palace, the Plaza de España, the Plaza Mayor and the Puerta del Sol. Nightlife in Madrid hums until the wee hours of the morning.
Toledo is a small medieval town about an hour south of Madrid. The ecclesiastical center of Spain, Toledo has a huge Gothic cathedral with a gallery of El Greco paintings. Nearby is the Capilla de Santo Tomé, with the most famous of all El Greco paintings, The Burial of Count Orgaz. A Roman bridge spans the Tagus River, which surrounds the town on three sides. Toledo is famous for its Damascene art work, from jewelry to swords.
Segovia is best known for the two thousand year-old Roman aqueduct which stretches through the middle of town. Perched on a cliff at the edge of town stands the alcázar, or castle, where Isabella was proclaimed queen of Castile in 1474. The Gothic cathedral sits on the Plaza Mayor, where all the narrow, labyrinthine streets converge.
Salamanca lies one hundred and twenty-seven miles northwest of Madrid. The Plaza Mayor is an 18th century Plateresque square in the middle of the city. The old cathedral, dating from the twelfth century, adjoins the new cathedral, built in the sixteenth century. The University of Salamanca, founded officially in 1254 by Alphonse X, is the oldest university in Spain and one of the four oldest in Europe (Oxford, Paris, Bologna). In the summer, the tuna (a musical group that sings folkloric songs) performs in the Plaza Mayor until 2 am. The Plaza is always packed at night, and the city is hopping until sunrise.
The running of the bulls, known as los Sanfermines, takes place from July 7-14th. This week-long festival honoring San Fermín includes the daily running of the bulls, a bull fight, parades, outdoor shops, fireworks, and bands playing at multiple venues. Festivities run 24 hours a day for a week.
The Ramblas (a broad avenue with a median crowded with cafes, shops and kiosks) of this Mediterranean city lead to the harbor, with side streets winding through the old Gothic Quarters, by the cathedral. Antonio Gaudí is the city’s best-known architect. His Church of the Holy Family, Parc Güell, Casa Milá and Casa Batlló are the favorite destination of tourists. Barcelona is a city of artists, and boasts a Picasso museum and a Joan Miró museum. Students also visit a Salvador Dalí museum in Figueres, north of Barcelona.
The cathedral in Sevilla, the largest Gothic structure in the world and the third largest cathedral in the Christian world, claims to hold the remains of Christopher Columbus. A climb to the top of the Giralda, the Moorish tower attached to the cathedral, gives the students a panoramic view of the white city. Across from the cathedral is the alcázar, a 14th century Moorish palace. Popular attractions include the Plaza de España, the Torre de Oro and the replica of the Santa María (one of Columbus’s ships) on the Guadalquivir River. Students can pay extra to visit this city through the University of Salamanca’s excursion to Andalucía.
Granada is known for its gypsy culture and the famous poet, Federico García Lorca. But the Moors lived in Granada for over 800 years, and left a stunning palace – actually, a city – called the Alhambra. Students tour the huge palace, along with the smaller summer palace called the Generalife. Ferdinand and Isabella are buried in the cathedral downtown, next to the old Moorish market, the Albaycín. Students can pay extra to visit this city through the University of Salamanca’s excursion to Andalucía.
Avila and El Escorial
About an hour from Salamanca, Avila is an ancient city surrounded by 11th century walls with walkways on top. Avila has Gothic palaces, Romanesque churches and a cathedral, but it is most famous for Saint Teresa, who was born there in 1515. El Escorial is a monastery and palace completed by King Phillip II in 1584. It houses a magnificent library, famous paintings, and the Royal Pantheon where many famous kings are buried. Students can pay extra for this excursion through the University of Salamanca.