According to one of the earliest documents preserved in the University dating back to 1243, the University of Salamanca was founded in 1218 by King Alfonso IX of León and is considered to be the oldest university in the Hispanic world. A Royal Charter issued by King Alfonso X on May 8th, 1254, set out the rules for organisation and granted the University twelve chairs of learning. That same year Pope Alexander IV granted the University of Salamanca, together with those of Bologna, Paris and Oxford, the status of General School. The papal bulls issued in 1255 confirmed the Salamanca institution’s status as a University, declared universal recognition for all degrees awarded there and granted the University its own seal.
New privileges and the regulation of university studies and academic life were the work of Popes in medieval times (constitutions of 1411, Benedict XIII and of 1422, Martin V), and the Catholic Kings and their Council. Many books of University rules and regulations were written and would remain in effect until the reforms of the Enlightenment.
El Tostado, a famous theologian, Lope de Barrientos and Pedro de Osma are representative of the medieval university: Juan del Enzina and Fray Diego de Deza of the Renaissance.
At the beginning of the 16th century, the University of Salamanca was one of the most important centres of learning in the world. Columbus’ plans were judged by its scholars and Salamanca staunchly defended the native Americans and human rights.
Most of the great theologians of the Council of Trent were disciples of Francisco de Vitoria. International Law became a new discipline as a consequence of that theological movement which was represented by Domingo de Soto, Melchor Cano and Domingo Báñez.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, the University of Salamanca had great professors of humanities like Antonio de Nebrija, the author of the first grammar of Castilian Spanish, or Fray Luís de León, one of the greatest Spanish poets.
San Juan de la Cruz, San Ignacio de Loyola, Juan Ruiz de Alarcón, Calderón de la Barca, Francisco de Medrano, Góngora, Saavedra Fajardo, among others, also taught there.
Numerous documents were published by the university’s philosophers, mathematicians and astronomers. By the middle of the 16th century, the university had 6,500 students and the chairs of law and theology came to form what was known as the “Salamanca School”, whose most well-known figure was Francisco de Vitoria. His contributions to modern law include practical reflections on problems resulting from the expansion of Europe and the colonisation of America, the nature of power and justice, the rights of states and individuals, international community and law of nations, and international conflicts and just war.
The Salamanca model was adopted by the universities of the Hispanic world and adapted to the particular circumstances of each university. The prestige of the University of Salamanca drew more students from all over the world than any other Hispanic university of the era.
More recent times have seen considerable increases in student numbers: in the mid-80s there were more than 20,000 and this number grew to 30,000 in the 1990s. This increase led to significant investment in university buildings and infrastructures. The most notable of these is the Miguel de Unamuno Campus, built at the end of the 1980s. Currently, the university also has campuses in neighbouring towns including Ávila, Zamora, Béjar and Villamayor.