Salamanca seeks cultural capital gains

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NEW YORK -- Most people's college years are a mix of learning and fun, and as Spain's oldest university town, Salamanca -- one of two European Union cultural capitals for 2002 -- has been an expert at both for hundreds of years.

Spanish tourism officials are counting on that dual vocation to drum up interest among foreign visitors as cultural events spring to life across the city this month.

"Salamanca's university is one of Spain's most famous, and that means lots of students -- and lots of fun," said Alvaro Renedo, director of the Tourist Office of Spain in New York.

"I'm sure the city will be very easy for U.S. travel agents to market, even with the difficult transatlantic travel climate. "Still, we do hope that the European capital of culture status will help us increase arrivals," he added.

Although Salamanca is already popular with Americans who want to study the Spanish language abroad, the beautiful Castilian city, located three hours northwest of Madrid, normally is not included on U.S. tour operators' escorted itineraries to attraction-filled Spain. The country's tourist offices in the U.S. will work to rectify that situation, Renedo said.

"I'm going to have a meeting with tour operators as soon as I return to the States, giving them incentives to market Salamanca along with several other routes in Castile and Leon," he said.

Renedo also said he plans to promote the city heavily in his U.S. advertising efforts in 2002, and the provincial Castilian government is launching a $5 million awareness campaign in the U.S. this summer that will include four art exhibitions and a June 11 concert in New York to benefit victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Set in stones

A Roman bridge frames the New Cathedral in Salamanca, Spain, one of the European Union's two cultural capitals for 2002. The other is Bruges, Belgium. Salamanca -- said to have been founded by ancient Celtic tribes -- fell under Roman domination as early as the second century B.C., as visitor sightseeing favorite, the Roman Bridge, attests.

Most itineraries begin in the city's spectacular Plaza Mayor, or main square, and then proceed to churches, such as the 12th century St. Martin's and 16th century New Cathedral; civic structures, such as the University, built between 1415 and 1433, and the Gothic-style Casa de las Conchas, or House of Shells; as well as myriad sights along the popular Calle Zamora.

The refurbishment of a city's architectural patrimony has become a traditional preparation for Cultural Capital status, and accordingly, much of Salamanca's old historic center -- a Unesco World Heritage site since 1988 -- "has been tremendously restored," according to Renedo.

Among the historic spaces refurbished for cultural purposes are the Liceo Theater in Plaza del Liceo, an Italianate structure that will seat 700 for performances of repertory and classical theater and operas; the 14,000-square-foot Salamanca Art Center -- formerly the city jail -- and the 4,000-square-foot Santo Domingo Exhibition Center, for contemporary art shows; and, to open by fall, the Commercial and Industrial History Museum, home to long-forgotten cisterns once used by the city's fire brigades.

City officials also are erecting a new edifice, the Center for Performing Arts, alongside the existing Salamanca Art Center to commemorate this year's events.

The largest performance space in the city at 1,400 seats, the new building will host major dance, theater and opera events as well as top popular concerts.

Castilian lists

So what's going on at all these venues? Quite a bit, as Salamanca proffers a full menu of 52 painting, sculpture and photography exhibitions; several cultural conferences; 120 opera, theater and dance performances; and 100 concerts. A sampling of highlights follows:

Art exhibitions

• "August Rodin," throughout March, Santo Domingo Exhibition Hall. Sculptures, drawings and photographs by the French artist on loan from the Rodin Museum in Paris.

• "Tapestries from the City of Bruges," April to May, Santo Domingo Exhibition Hall. In tribute to joint cultural capital Bruges, Belgium, a display of masterful 16th and 17th century Flemish tapestries.

• "War Propaganda," October through January 2003, Castile and Leon Conference and Exhibition Center. Collections of printed materials from the Spanish Civil War, including posters, photographs and publications.

Baroque music

• Early and Religious Music Festival, until March 27, sites across Salamanca. Focus on Baroque works by Bach, Handel and others.

• Europe and the New World, Oct. 20 to Nov. 10, at sites across Salamanca. Explores mutual influences of Native American and Baroque Iberian music during the European colonization of America.

Theater and opera

Dramatic offerings at Salamanca's historic bullfighting ring include a June performance of Georges Bizet's "Carmen"; a July presentation of "The Threepenny Opera" by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill; and works by Chekhov, Strindberg, Shakespeare, Euripides and Arthur Miller, among others.

For more information on Salamanca 2002 and tour operators offering packages to Spain, visit the Tourist Office of Spain on the Web at www.okspain.org.

Agents also can call the tourist office in Chicago at (312) 642-9817; in Los Angeles at (323) 658-7188; in Miami at (305) 358-8223; or in New York at (212) 265-8822.

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