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In 220 BC, Celtiberian Salamanca was besieged by Hannibal. Later, under Roman rule, it was an important staging post on the Via Lata (Ruta de la Plata, or Silver Route) from the mines in Asturias to the south. After the Muslim invasion of Spain, it changed hands repeatedly.

Possibly the greatest turning point in the city’s history was the founding of the university (initially the Estudio General) in 1218. It became the equal of Oxford and Bologna, and by the end of the 15th century was the focal point of some of the richest artistic activity in the country. The city followed the rest of Castilla into decline in the 17th century, although by the time Spanish literary hero Miguel de Unamuno became rector at the university in 1900, Salamanca had essentially recovered.