The University of Salamanca was founded by King Alfonso IX in 1218 and is the oldest in Spain. The building, which today hosts the main part of the University, is from the beginning of the XVth century and was ordered to build by Pope Benedict XIII. The university was constructed with the classical Villamayor stone and the façade decorated with curious figures of all kinds (It is customary to try to find a famous tiny frog on a skull). Inside the University the main attraction is the huge library with more than 150.000 invaluable volumes. The entrance portal of the university is a great example of Spain's Plateresque style, a work so intricate it looks like silverwork. The Gothic-style structure was built on the orders of Pope Luna in the years 1415-1433. In 1529 the main façade was erected between two buttresses and is the archetype of the style that has become known Plateresque (Spanish for silver). Five decorative vertical lines of decorative stonework rise through three horizontal registers. Prominently displayed in the first register, immediately over the twin doors with their basket-handle arch surmounts, is the medallion depicting the Catholic Kings holding a single sceptre, in a representation of the unity of Spain. It was one of Europe's leading centers of learning for 400 years. The old lecture halls around the cloister, where many of Spain's Golden Age heroes studied, are open to the public. Some of the rooms are still used by the University for prestigious academic ceremonies. In the University's Hall of Fray Luis de Leon, the tables and benches are made of narrow wooden beams, whittled down by centuries of studious writing. The professor used to speak from the church-threatening pulpit. It was there where freethinking Fray Luis de Leon, after the Inquisition jailed him for five years, returned to his place and started his first post-imprisonment class saying, "As we were saying yesterday..."
The best architects of the age, Diego de Siloé, Juan de Álava and Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón, were all involved in the construction of a building commissioned by Archbishop Fonseca in 1525. At that time it was one of the four colleges, which formed the University of Salamanca. Due to the many Irish students who once studied in the College it is also known as the Irish College. The façade of the building is decorated with the statues of San Agustína and San Ildefonso de Toledo and displays novelties over previous Plateresque works: architectural aspects predominate over decorative elements, and Villamayor stone has been used in combination with granite. Inside, the high altar retable was made by Berruguete. The use of rounded arches along the lower gallery, and basket-handle arches along the upper galleries has given the two-storeyed cloister an atmospheric harmony. The pillars are prolonged by torch holders, enhancing their slender elegance, while the spandrels are ornamented with medallions.
The Clergy and Pontifical University were ordered to build by Felipe III in the beginning of the XVIIth century. The construction didn't last until 1754 and is one of the most important monuments in Baroque style in all Spain. Inside the building the study cloister, with its giant columns is particularly remarkable. The Baroque Church and Seminary was designed by Juan Gómez de la Mora and begun in 1617. The church forms part of the Jesuit College (now Universidad Pontificia). Church and seminary were the initiative of Margaret of Austria, wife of Philip III, in an attempt to make reparations to the Society of Jesus for the wrong done to its founder, St. Ignatius Loyola, imprisoned in Salamanca because of the Dominicans.