Parts of the university's walls, like those of the cathedral and other structures in Salamanca, are covered with large ocher lettering recording the names of famous university graduates. The earliest names are said to have been written in the blood of the bulls killed to celebrate the successful completion of a doctorate. The Escuelas Mayores (Upper Schools) dates to 1415, but it was not until more than 100 years later that an unknown architect created its elaborate facade. Above the main door is the famous double portrait of Isabella and Ferdinand, surrounded by ornamentation that plays on the yoke-and-arrow heraldic motifs of the two monarchs. The double-eagle crest of Carlos V, flanked by portraits of the emperor and empress in classical guise, dominates the middle layer of the frontispiece.
Perhaps the most famous rite of passage for new students is to find the single carved frog on the facade. Legend has it that if you spot the frog on your first try, you'll pass all your
exams and have a successful university career; for this reason, it's called la rana de la suerte (the lucky frog). It can be hard to spot the elusive amphibian, but the ticket booth has posted a clue. (The crowd of pointing tourists helps, too.) You can then see the beloved frog all over town, on sweatshirts, magnets, pins, jewelry, and postcards.
The interior of the Escuelas Mayores, drastically restored in parts, comes as a slight disappointment after the splendor of the facade. But the aula (lecture hall) of Fray Luis de León, where Cervantes, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, and numerous other luminaries of Spain's golden age once sat, is of particular interest. Cervantes carved his name on one of the wooden pews up front. After five years' imprisonment for having translated the Song of Songs into Spanish, Fray Luis returned to this hall and began his lecture, "As I was saying yesterday . . . ." The Escuelas Menores (Lower Schools) wraps around the patio in front of the Escuelas Mayores. Be sure to check out its serene courtyard.