This week we are going to play a game called “find the frog” or in Spanish “Rana de Suerte” which means Lucky Frog. A game that tourists and students are drawn into when they visit the Universidad de Salamanca in Spain. Legend says that if one can find the frog hidden in beautiful stone carvings on the university building’s facade then that person will have good luck, find true love or marry within a year.
The University of Salamanca (Universidad de Salamanca), is the oldest in Spain, built in 1134, and third from a global perspective. Over many years, the ancient legend of the frog and skull continues to challenge students and tourists alike.
The good luck is greater if you can locate the frog on your own. However, if you have ever been to Salamanca in peak tourist season you will realise this is easier said than done. Everyday the university plaza (Plaza Anaya), is full of tourists seeking out the elusive good luck frog. So one could be engrossed in searching the ancient stone carvings and catholic monarchs when suddenly you hear “There it is!” That is the voice of an excited tourist as they discover there really is a frog on the facade. This announcement draws everyone’s attention. After that, it is hard not to find where one should look.
So as you can imagine, finding the frog on your own might not happen. Will you still receive good luck, find true love or get married? You may have to wait 12 months to find out.
The university’s facade, or La Puerta de Salamanca in Spanish, was built in the 16th century and is a gorgeous example of architectural pre-Roman design. Commissioned in 1529, it includes some amazing stone carvings from its time of the Catholic Kings Isabel, Fernando, Charles V’s imperial coat of arms, the Pope and two Cardinals. Like all historical landmarks and buildings, Salamanca was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
Following a complex and colourful history, Salamanca is today a city transitioned into a commercial and academic hub. The university enrol approximately 30,000 students each year. While not as prestigious as those in Madrid, Barcelona and Seville it is a significant institution in Spain’s history.
Students studying at the university search for the frog because the academics have told them that if they can see it they will pass their exams and graduate. Throughout the university’s history, successful and graduated students write their initials on the ancient walls in ink rumoured to be made of bull’s blood, olive oil, and herbs. Strange to us but it was a legacy for graduated students.
Let the game begin!
Below are a series of photos. The first is a wide shot of the university building facade. Can you locate the frog?
Okay, perhaps the photo makes it difficult to know where to start your quest. So here is photo number two that shows the side of the column where the frog should be. Can you see him yet?
If yes, congratulations. Well spotted!
For those unsure of what they should be seeing, here is the third photo with a close up of the frog sitting on a skull.
To keep some mystery about the frog’s location I have not shown which side of the facade the close up photo is of. I don’t want to spoil the game for anyone who has not yet been to Salamanca. You will also have more luck – or marry your true love – if you are not told where Mr Frog is.
Why the frog?
Okay so why is there a frog in the facade and who’s evil idea was it to torture everyone this way? Were the ancient Spaniards playing a joke on the people? No. There actually is a story behind the frog’s appearance. Well there are several interpretations depending on who one talks to.
- Academic Benjamin Garcí-Hernández says that the skull represents Prince Juan, son of the Catholic Kings, who prematurely died of disease in 1497 before his 20th birthday. The frog represents Doctor Parra, who did all he could to save the prince but with no luck. The frog was given its own Spanish name Parrita or Little Parra out of respect to the doctor.
- However, the alternative story is provided by the university with a darker meaning. The frog is the symbol of sexual temptation and the skull represents death and failure. It may seem that this story was used to scare students into not engaging in frivolous extra-curricular activities such as dating. If they did then they would fail their exams, become very sick or die from an incurable disease. In Spanish history a toad is used to represent prostitutes and there are some people who think the frog is actually a toad. This was back in the days when the university was predominately attended by males and the academics used the story to warn them not to be distracted from study and beware that women carried disease as represented by the skull and therefore death would be their punishment.
The first story is perhaps the more pleasant.
So once I had found the frog I joined the rest of the group for a celebration dinner in the Plaza Mayor. The main square of Salamanca is the place to be seen and is the town’s most popular meeting place. The square used to be used for men and women to meet. One would walk clockwise and the other anti-clockwise until they met one another.
At almost 11 pm remember to stay for the illumination where the town square lights up. It is like a light show where everyone can witness a spectacular reflection of images and colour on the whole building’s infrastructure