Salamanca Street

A dingy section of street under a Victorian railway arch is not the most likely place to find mosaics, let alone mosaics of important buildings in Spanish town complete with graffiti.

La Casa de las Conchas

I’ve been to Salamanca several times. I even spent part of one summer not learning Spanish there. It is very beautiful, but the scenes of hell in the cathedral make you remember the zeal with which the Inquisition purged the populace. And why London ended up with a Spanish and Portuguese synagogue. There is a rather lovely and peaceful convent, but the name slips my memory. It’s been a long day.

I have a problem with catholicism in many Spanish churches. The accent seems to be on fear and punishment. Altars are adorned with large dolls representing saints, generally female ones, (actually I can’t recall seeing any male ones) with knives sticking into them. It’s all a long way from the light, life and hope I saw in Florentine frescoes.

But back to south London, My little patch of heaven you may remember.

There’s an outfit called Southbank Mosaics, led by ex-teacher David Toothill, that is on a successful mission to beautify neglected places with, yes you guessed it, mosaics. They also use ceramics.

Salamanca Street, which meets the criteria nicely being on the uglier end of grotty, has got the treatment. Apart from mosaics of Salamanca’s cathedral, la universidad and la Casa de las Conchas, there are ceramics of designs from Doulton, and a mosaic portrait of the Duke of Wellington.

Because of course the street didn’t get its name because someone visited and loved Salamanca. No, it was because of the battle there in 1812 which was a pivotal moment in the Peninsula War with Napoleon being driven out of Spain. Never let it be said that London ever misses a trick when it comes to celebrating victories over Napoleon.

Not that Tim oF Chatham probably cares much either way.

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