Zaragoza is a city of 4 cultures. With its 2000 years of history, Zaragoza offers visitors a great cultural heritage. Known as the City of the Four Cultures, Iberians, Romans, Muslims, Jewish and Christians have influenced the development of this city since early times.
Zaragoza is Spain’s fifth largest city, even bigger than more popular places such as Bilbao or Málaga, although it is rarely talked about and is visited by few international tourists compared with others.
Zaragoza is the capital of Spain’s autonomous region of Aragón, which used to be its own kingdom. This means that it is home to lots of grand monuments, palaces and houses. These include the Moorish Aljafería Palace, the magnificent Zaragoza Museum and the intricately decorated Solans Houses, or in Spanish called Casa Solans, which is an Art Nouveau palace, or known as Casa de los Azulejos (House of Tiles).
Spain is filled with magnificent pieces of Moorish architecture, remnants of the 800 year rule of the Moors over much of the country. Most of these grand palaces and fortresses, however, are located in the south of the country, in Andalusia. The best example to be seen outside of Andalusia is Zaragoza’s Aljafería Palace. Built during the second half of the 11th century, it is filled with ornate Arabic arches and intricate carvings. Today, it is the house of the parliament of Aragón, but can also be visited on a guided tour.
Zaragoza, like most other Spanish cities, has certainly seen its fair share of civilizations, conquests, re-conquests and brutal bloody wars. People here are famous for being a stubborn, proud and noble people, and rightfully so. With one look at their history, it is easy to see why they hold on so strongly to what their ancesters once fought so courageously to preserve. Therefore, Zaragoza, and Aragon's history seems to stand out among the rest, in the way that this area's legacy has not only affected its own people, but has also had a significant influence that, at one time, stretched not only all through Spain but even as far as Greece, Italy and the Americas.
Iberians and Romans
Zaragoza started out in the 5th century BCE as an Iberian Settlement on the Banks of the River Ebro called Salduba. Towards the end of the 1st century BCE, the town was taken over by the Romans, who claimed this strategic town as their own and made it a colony under Emperor Augustus and named the town Caesaraugusta. The name Caesaraugusta is where its Arabic name Saraqusṭah and its present name are eventually derived.
The town of Caesaraugusta, was initially established to be a commercial and military Roman outpost in the Ebro valley. It was one of the first towns in Spain to be Christianized. The outpost was set up as a defence against the advancing Visigoth Kingdoms. Soon the town became one of the largest cities in the province of Tarraco, with an estimated population of 30,000 people at its peak. It's importance continued to grow as it became a central spot for the expansion of Roman culture, which would eventually lead to a latinisation that would sweep through a huge percentage of the Iberian Peninsula.
The glory days of the Roman Empire were drawing to an end and another group of conquerors, who were making their way methodically through the land, would take this prize for themselves. The Muslim conquerors arrived in 714, and conquered the city and renamed it Saraqusta. Like the Romans, this city became a logistical base, acting as a starting point for Muslim invasions around the Ebro Valley and into France.
In the 8th century it flourished as an important Muslim settlement known as Medina Albaida Sarakosta. Its most important testimony is “La Aljaferia”, one of the most remarkable examples of muslim-hispanic architecture from the 9th century. “mudejar” forms of art can also be appreciated in the towers of different churches in the city: La Magdalena, San Pablo, San Gil and San Miguel, el Torreon de la Zuda and one of the walls in La Seo.
As the city developed, it became an open, cultural and artistic haven, offering a kind of sanctuary to intellectuals of all backgrounds or religions. In a rare moment in history Muslims, Jews, Christians all lived side by side, coexisting and making Saraqusta into one of the most important independent Muslim principalities in the peninsula. Evidence of this splendour can be seen in the magnificent Aljaferia Palace, built as a home for the Sultan King Abu Jafar Moctadir in 1045.
It was this very palace that would become the home of the next person to rule this city; Alfonso I. Known as "the Battler" this Christian King marched into town in 1118 and put an end to 4 centuries of Muslim rule. He made the magnificent Aljaferia his home, renamed the city Zaragoza and made it the capital of the newly formed Kingdom of Aragon.
In 1412 then King of Aragon, Ferdinand II married Isabella of Castile and set into motion a sequence of events that would eventually lead to the formation and unity of Spain as we know it today. This famous couple would also be the ones who finally agreed to fund legendary explorer Christopher Columbus, leading to the discovery of The Americas, and helping to spread the reign of the ever expanding kingdom of Aragon. These two also oversaw the "reconquista" from the Muslims in the south, the expulsion of Zaragoza's Jews and the orders of the infamous Spanish Inquisition. In fact, it was in the Aljaferia where the inquisitors held their courts from 1706 and onwards.
Ferdinand's death was followed by the rule of the House of Austria, and a line of kings beginning with Carlos I. The city expanded greatly in the 16th and 17th centuries and built itself up as an economic center. In the 18th century the Bourbon Monarchy began its reign with Philip V as its head. Then, in 1808 and 1809 the city fell under siege by Napolean's French Army. Several bloody battles destroyed much of the city. But, with the help of the famous General Palafox, they were able to hold off their would be occupiers.
From 1936 to 1939, during the Spanish Civil war, Zaragoza endured the Battle of the Ebro. Witnessing brutal fighting between Fascists in the centre and anarchists who were in control of the countryside. It was after the death of Franco, and during the transition to democracy, that Aragon, with Zaragoza as its capital, would become an Autonomous Community.
Zaragoza hosted the Expo in the summer of 2008, a world's fair on water and sustainable development. In the Expo site, one can visit the 76 meter high “Torre del Agua” building, a glass window building which become an iconic symbol of the world Expo held in Zaragoza. In the same site, do not miss the millennium bridge designed by the famous architect: Zaha Hadid and the “Palacio de Congresos” designed by Nieto and Sobejano.
Zaragoza was also a candidate for the European Capital of Culture in 2012. The city is now famous for its folklore, local gastronomy, and magnificent landmarks such as the Basílica del Pilar, La Seo Cathedral and the Aljafería Palace. There is also a wide variety of museums to choose from in Zaragoza, the most popular being the Roman Forum, Pablo Gargallo and Pablo Serrano.