One of the oldest student cities of Spain is Salamanca, located in the north-west part of the country. Its University was founded in 1218, eight centuries ago! Since then, countless students have come to learn the "secrets" about Law, Philosophy, Theology, Chemistry… And as the legend has it... dark magic. Underneath the old Salamanca city wall, in the crypt of a church ascribed to Cyprian, the "magician saint", lies the cave of Salamanca, a place where it is said that Satan used to teach his students nigromancy. Today, the place has been fully excavated and the remains of crypt have been brought to light.
It is said that Hercules, upon his visit to Salamanca, noticed that the locals were very ignorant. So, he decided to find a solution to this. He dug a hole and in it, he threw the seven liberal arts and a bunch of selected books. The hole became the current crypt, and in there he is said to have tried to teach people from Salamanca. But these people, however, were too slow at learning, and the hero needed to leave. Therefore, he decided to create a statue of himself, which was able to talk, in order to continue his task. This legend appears in a 15th-century book, the Recueil des Histoires de Troye, written by Raoul Lefebre. At some point, the statue became a head that had the power to talk.
The cave of Salamanca was so famous in medieval times, that it became a noun itself and was introduced in the local language. And so, all around South America, a "Salamanca" is a cave where shamans learn magic.
As it usually happens, the pagan myth became a work of the devil, and so later on the teacher was considered to be the Satan himself, under the appearance of a "sacristan". Traditionally he had seven students for seven years, one of which had to pay for the classes. If he didn’t have enough money, he would have to stay in the cave forever. The marquis of Villena, a very cultivated man whose books were burnt on the Inquisition fire, was said to have been the only one smart enough to fool the devil. He couldn’t afford to pay his debt, so when everybody left he hid in a barrel. The next day the rest of the students saw that the place was empty, and so they went away, thinking that the marquis had learnt the "magic lesson" too well. They left the door open, so Villena was able to go out, hide behind the altar, and leave with all the parishioners after mass. More dramatic versions claim that the devil kept in return his shadow or his soul. These versions have inspired great writers such as Walter Scott, Hartzenbusch, Rojas. Even Cervantes dedicated a full book to it. He says about the cave:
Let’s go inside. I want to find out if devils eat or not and confirm the hundred thousand things, that are said about them. And by God, they shall not leave my house until they teach me the sciences that are taught in the cave of Salamanca.
Today, the whole area has been fully excavated and has brought to light the remains of the ancient crypt. The place had been chosen carefully: right outside the ancient city, out of sight of the authorities. Caves were popular for pagan cults. It was so important that the Church felt the need to turn it into a Christian place in the XIIth century. The new church was ascribed to Saint Cyprian, a martyr that had previously been a magician of dark arts, much like the ones said to take place there. To get to the crypt one had to go down 25 steps. The place is now an open air museum, with free entrance, where the visitor can see a couple of tombs, a medieval door and other architectural remains. Next to it, you can visit the tower of Villena, one of the best free miradors of Salamanca. It’s a very romantic spot. Sometimes you can see there one or two couples that haven’t hesitated to climb the four floors, in order to admire the view. The sunset light upon the Cathedral is simply breath-taking. And don’t worry about it being crowded: tourists rarely go there. The place is well hidden in the Cuesta de Carvajal. It opens all day long, but at night it is closed- just in case the devil shows up again to take in more students…
Live it yourself as a memorable local experience!Discover the Live Stories
Like this story?
Get more! Subscribe to our monthly inspiration newsletter.