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Salamanca turning into Salou?

What to do in a gap year? It’s highly recommendable to go and spend a while abroad. For instance learn a new language and get to know new culture and people. Europe is full of old cities that attract tourists and international students because they offer a nice ambiance. Salamanca is one of these old historical cities that’s rich of culture. Salamanca is the capital of the north western region Castel y León. Just like Groningen it’s very popular among international students from all over the world. Every year the city gets flooded with thousands of students to follow a Spanish course on one of the local language schools or the university. This success of popularity is followed with danger. A following side effect which lots of other cultural places fear: tourism. In this particular case the unwanted effect of thousands of international students and their wild parties. Is this a threat of changing the image of a historical and cultural city into a new centre of the wild fiestas?

The attraction
What is it that this city has that attract tourists and international students? As a starter Salamanca is a very old and beautiful city. It is famous for its educational centre. In the city you can find the University of Salamanca, which is founded in 1218 by king Aldonso IX of Leon and hereby the oldest university of Spain. It offers a wide range of courses, including the official DELE courses, which stands for Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjera, English: Diplomas of Spanish as a Foreign Language. These courses are very interesting for the international students. After passing a DELE exam you leave the university with an official certification that proves your ability of speaking and understanding the Spanish language on a certain level.  Let alone the building is candy for the eye. Speaking of buildings: Salamanca is also known as the city of gold. Why? The buildings, mostly of baroque style are made of a certain type of sand stone. During sunset the sun rays hit the buildings and this gives the historical city a golden glow. Every year the city receives over 50.000 new students, which is roughly one third of the total city population. This creates a divers and special ambiance in the city. This great group of young students brings a big change in the demands in the needs of facilities. Students like to party, thus the city centre has a great nightlife with an enormous number of bars and cafes where you can spend the night partying till the early hours. This all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

With this success in popularity of Spanish and international students spending money on booze and parties, there is developing a new trend within the nightlife. One that has a very dark downside and could, in some people’s eyes, cause truly harm to their own city. Students and especially international students live in Salamanca only very temporarily. They have a very different connection with the city than the local people. Of course students like to party every now and then, but there is a trend developing of a growing number in Erasmus parties that are getting out of hand. Often international students have their accommodation in apartment buildings among the local people. This creates regular nuisance for the locals and families. If you follow social media and the news on the municipality you can discover a trend of the growing appearance of news about parties and their problems. Messages about another party that has gone out of hand, where the police had to bust in an apartment that was overcrowded with drunk students.  Since approximately three years the Erasmus parties are getting out of hand. Just like a normal demand and supply effect, the local bar and café owners want maximum benefit of the partying students. This has been a noticeable development in the night life. One that generates the fear of the municipality and the locals.

Wild fiestas and tourists
The development of nightlife is getting a priority on the agenda of the municipality. The number of news items about yet another apartment party busted by the police aren’t uncommon. The parties are getting wilder and the phenomenon ‘fiestas sexuales’ has risen. Partying international students who cause frustration amongst the locals and who disappear within a few weeks: a phenomenon which the authorities are taking serious measures against.

The fear of the image of the cultural and historical city going down the drain is lurking.  A fear that is quite understandable when you think about a future where young tourist could choose Salamanca over party places like Salou and Lloret de Mar.  It seems that a once created image of a place is almost impossible to change back. A wrong image of a place will attract more and more ‘unwanted’ tourism. Facebook pages of local bars are getting filled with photos of their crazy parties including naked students drained with alcohol. This to attract more and more young public. The problem is that they will eventually attract the wrong public and could even repel the ‘wanted’ tourist. A serious danger for a city like Salamanca.

The fear of the parties causing harm to the cultural and historical image of the city as driven the authorities to take some serious measures. Bars are getting fined over 3000 euros for giving wild, so called sex parties and could even encounter a closure for half a year. The council of Tourism has announced that they will try to reach the goal to end the troubles of tumultuous house parties and sexual night life.  They wish to reach this goal through changing the municipal legislation and organization of the public activities for leisure time. This is to avoid future repetitions of unwanted activities. They seek possibilities in mandatory licences for organizing activities.  Furthermore, the authorities have stricken the sanctions of misbehaving in public, especially in the night life. The head of the council of Tourism has announced the public statement: Salamanca es una ciudad para divertirse, no para emborracharse.”, Salamanca is a city where you can enjoy yourself and not a place to get drunk.

Could you say that the measures are helping saving the city’s image? When you follow the social media of the local bars and cafés, you could have noticed a great noticeable change of the expressed image. The pictures and announcements of the wild parties with half naked youth have disappeared. The impression has changed into one where it’s a place where you can have a great time and meet people over the whole world.

You can conclude that the authorities have taken the right actions in changing the regulations and sanctions of public activities. In this case it was not enough to just bust the uncontrollable parties. This would not have solved the structural effect, because of the constant flow of new international students that will start all over again. The authorities have detected the problem just in time to prevent it from further escalation and creating definite harm to the city image.  It would be a shame when old cities with a wonderful and rich history would get wrecked by their own success.



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