The General Historical Library of Salamanca it is the oldest university library in Spain. The Salamanca University was founded in 1218 by the will of the king Alfonso IX of Leon, although it was in 1254 when Alfonso X ‘El Sabio’ granted him his first constitutional charter, and in 1255 when Pope Alexander IV granted universal validity to the titles imparted by the new University.
According to information from the University itself, the year 1254 can also be considered as date of birth of the University Library, «Since the Magna Carta of Alfonso X already included the creation of the position of Stationary or owner of a ‘Station’ of books, paid by the University and in charge of keeping updated copies for consultation. However, it is necessary to wait until the fifteenth century for news to abound about the Library, which did not reach its first splendor until the second half of the 15th century and throughout the sixteenth century.
In 1471 -the USAL information continues- the first reference to the number of existing works in the Library -201- is already collected in the Cloister Books -201-, although no inventory of them is preserved. Possibly, this amount responded in large part to the donation of manuscripts of Juan de Segovia, who in the act of donation, preserved in manuscript 211 of the University Library, dated 1466, demanded that his books be fastened with chains and that they be transferred to an exclusive room for the library, leaving the stationery’s home.
As for the premises, in 1470 the books left the Stationary’s house and were moved to an exclusive room for them, located in the upper area of the chapel. However, at the beginning of the 16th century, the installation of the Juan de Flandes altarpiece made it necessary to tear down the ceiling that separated the chapel and the Library, so that the University must have had no room for its books for about five or six years. In 1509 the construction of the current premises was addressed, on the upper floor of the cloister. The oldest inventory in the Library, with a nominal list of authors and titles, dates from the early seventeenth century (1611) and it contains 879 works, between manuscripts and printed matter. There are now 2,774 manuscripts, 483 incunabula, and around 62,000 volumes printed between the 16th and 18th centuries. Among them, these little treasures.
The manuscript ‘De materia medica’, popularly known by the name of its author, Pedanius Dioscorides, was the botanical work with the greatest diffusion during the Middle Ages and collects extensive knowledge of medicine, botany and pharmacology that persists over time as axes of traditional medicine. The copy preserved in the General Historical Library of the University of Salamanca (USAL) is a copy written in Greek sometime in the 15th century in Italy.
It belonged to the library of the Colegio Mayor San Bartolomé, from where it passed at the end of the 18th century to the Library of the Royal Palace and from there to its current place in 1954. In 2006 it was the subject of a careful publication in facsimile, as well as an edition web, «Interactive Dioscorides».
The USAL Historical Library also guards Steve Tamborino’s ‘Armorial’ codex, which was owned by Agustín de Torres, King of Arms of the Catholic Monarchs, and considered the jewel of the 16th century Spanish armoriales by collecting a multitude of shields weapons of different people or lineages, mainly from the Aragonese area.
It is made of paper and plaster and rests in a wooden cradle formed by a circular bowl for the compass in which the months and the zodiacal signs are outlined. Made in London in 1757 by Johan Senex and Benjamin Hardon, it presents, surrounded by floral motifs and angels, the same legend in Latin and English.
The translation reads “Globe of all parts and regions explored, according to the latest astronomical navigational observations and reliable inventories.”