The Plaza Mayor not only has tasty restaurants and a beautiful view, but it also provides nighttime entertainment. Los tunos are young university musicians that sing and play instruments to swoon women and win their favor. They sing of love, beauty and bullfights, and have become the ultimate symbol of romanticism. Some see them as womanizers, but most regard them as an integral aspect of Salamanca culture. They set a romantic tone for a dinner date or pleasant ambience for a glass of wine. La tuna is the name for the group of the musicians, whose concept dates back to clerical students in the 10th century. The title tuna comes from the French term for the leader of vagabonds.
The students where black shorts, jackets and hats, a white shirt, and a band (beca) to identify the students’ university. One of the most important aspects is the embellishment of ribbons and shields to denote the cities the tuno has visited as well as signs of affection and love. Even students in the highest levels of education participate: those studying medicine wear yellow scarves and those studying law wear purple ones. Expect los tunos to play the bandurria, lute, guitar and tambourine, and other lesser-known traditional instruments. They won’t ask for money these days but they surely won’t refuse a donation.
Las tunas even have their own specialty universities, the most prestigious of which are in Salamanca while the University of Salamanca is the oldest one in the world. Starting on a Friday in June, Salamanca is the home to the National Contest of Tunas that begins as a procession of teams from the University through the streets to the Plaza Mayor. That evening, the rest of the town joins the groups with a long night of bar hopping to follow. One of the skills they display besides musical talent is tolerance of alcohol and an undeniable allure to women. Enjoy another performance by Las Tunas on Saturday afternoon in the Fonseca Auditorium at the University of Salamanca.
You don’t have to be around for this weekend though – all women in the Plaza at night are subject to the charms of the university medical students. Sit at the bar on the side of the Plaza Mayor closest to the San Martín Church (el Corrillo) to be where the tunas usually play most. But beware if you’re only looking to admire quietly – they are known to pull girls out of their chairs to dance with the band. Be sure to let the singers know about any birthdays within your group because they will be sure to honor your friend in true Salmantino style.