Wednesday, December 2, 2015


Zaragoza is one of the principal cities of Aragón, that historic region in north-eastern Spain. In fact, it is the capital of the autonomous community of Aragón and of the province of Zaragoza itself. Like other provincial capitals in Spain, the city has countless beautiful buildings, many of which reflect its glorious history. 

It is the fifth biggest city after Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Sevilla.

Zaragoza has lots of monuments to its illustrious past, many of them are in the 'casco viejo' - the historic city centre. Churches, basilicas, palaces, stately homes and plazas are all to be found within the city walls. 

Zaragoza and the River Ebro
A most appropriate place to begin a discovery of the city is in the Plaza del Pilar. In this beautiful square, standing beside the Ebro River, are two of Zaragoza's most important buildings - the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar and La Lonja Palace. The Cathedral de la Seo is also nearby. These are just three of the 'must see' sights in the city but also in this square is the Municipal Tourist Office, which is worth visiting if you wish to take guided tours of the city. 

 If, like me, you prefer to amble around the streets of the medieval quarter under your own steam then the tourist office can provide you with a map or even a little booklet, which might include a guided walk. Whatever you do, though, ensure that you have enough time to visit one of Zaragoza's star attractions - the Aljafería Palace which is located a little further out than many of the attractions.

It could be said that Zaragoza has two cathedrals because the Basilica del Pilar is often called the Catedral de Nuestra Señora del Pilar. Be that as it may, it is one of the most famous sanctuaries of the Virgin Mary in the World and commemorates her alleged appearance on January 2, AD 40. It is said that the Virgin Mary was standing on a pillar when she appeared before the Apostle St. James who was apparently busy in the city converting some of the locals to Christianity. 

Zaragoza - Basilica del Pilar
The Basilica is an enormous but attractive Baroque structure with four towers. The inside is pretty impressive too, with a Gothic altarpiece in alabaster, Renaissance choir-stalls, frescoes by Goya and Velásquez and - the star attraction - the Santa Capilla or Holy Chapel that enshrines the statue of the Virgin del Pilar. The Basilica has been declared a National Monument.

The other cathedral is pretty impressive too! The Catedral de La Seo, as it is sometimes called, mirrors the history of the city because it has grown through the centuries and reflects different architectural styles. Even before the building of this impressive structure started, there had been previous temples including a Visigothic church followed by a Grand Mosque and then a Romanesque church. Construction began in 1119. It was originally Gothic but further changes resulted in Mudéjar, Renaissance and Baroque styles. The cathedral is also known as the Catedral del Salvador. Inside there is a tapestry museum.

Between the two cathedrals is a beautiful Renaissance building - La Lonja. It was built in the 16th century as a public place where merchants could carry out their commercial transactions. The remains of the 1st-century Roman Forum are displayed in this fine building.

La Lonja Zaragoza

Opposite the Plaza del Pilar is the oldest bridge on the River Ebro - El Puente de Piedra- the stone bridge built in the 15th century.

Another fine church is the Basilica de Santa Engracia, which has an extraordinarily beautiful façade. The church was built in the 16th century in Renaissance style. Inside there is a crypt housing Paleo-Christian sarcophagi and the remains of the Martyrs of Zaragoza. There are many other churches in the city including the 14th-century Gothic churches of San Pablo and Magdalena.

There are many stately houses and Renaissance palaces too, including the Los Pardos Palace that, nowadays, houses the Camón Aznar museum. It is a treasure house of Art with paintings by Rubens, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Velazquez, Goya, Renoir, Manet and Sorolla. The Museum of Fine Arts has an impressive range of pictures too, with paintings by early Aragónese artists as well as masterpieces by El Greco, Ribera and Goya!

There is much else to see in Zaragoza - the University, the Town Hall, beautiful parks, Roman remains, historic towers, arches and gates, and beautiful plazas. I could describe some of the Modernist architecture like the Post Office and the Central Market - but I won't! Instead, I will mention one of the most impressive of all the palaces in Zaragoza - the Aljafería Palace!

Aljafería Palace by  Escarlati

La Aljafería is probably the best Moorish monument outside of Andalucía! It is part palace, part castle - from the outside it looks like a fortress with strong walls and rounded towers. However, if you cross the moat, which is now a sunken garden, you enter the world of Muslim Spain - or, at least, partly - apart from the Arab architecture that includes the Moorish Palace there is also the palace of the Catholic Kings. The much-restored Muslim Palace of the Aljafería was built in the 11th century as both a place of recreation and as a defensive stronghold. Nowadays, it is the seat of the Aragónese parliament. However, it is open to visitors who can follow in the footsteps of the Catholic Monarchs by visiting Santa Isabel's Courtyard or admiring the beautiful coffered ceiling of the Throne Room.

more blogs by Robert Bovington...
"Photographs of Spain"
"postcards from Spain"
"you couldn't make it up!"
"a grumpy old man in Spain"
"bits and bobs"
"Spanish Expressions"
"Spanish Art"
"Books About Spain"

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