ZARAGOZA

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.

Muslims

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.

Catholics

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.

Modern Zaragoza

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.

Zaragoza is a treasure trove of historical and cultural attractions await to be discovered. Tourists will find ancient Roman ruins, the first Marian church in Christendom, and fabulous art museums. Follow the Caesaraugusta Route to find the forum, thermal baths, and theater of the 1st to 2nd century Roman town, named after Emperor Augustus, that once flourished here. Those who appreciate Baroque architecture will want to visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Pilar, one of the most important pilgrimage churches in Spain.

Equally fascinating are the 12th century Moorish palace and the splendid UNESCO listed Mudéjar architecture of San Pablo, Santa Maria Magdalena, and San Juan de los Panetes churches. Art lovers will also appreciate the museums that display Francisco de Goya's famous paintings, as well as works by contemporary artist Pablo Serrano and the renowned sculptor Pablo Gargallo.

1. Basilica of Our Lady of Pilar

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pillar is a Roman Catholic church that worships the Virgin Mary. It is reputed to be the first church dedicated to Mary.

With its soaring towers and magnificent presence along the banks of the Ebro River, the Basilica of Our Lady of Pilar is the city's most iconic landmark. This gem of Baroque architecture was built between the 17th and 18th centuries. Views of the basilica are most impressive from across the river, whereas the entrance is on the other side at the Plaza del Pilar, a spacious town square lined with elegant historical buildings. Take time to admire the basilica's monumental exterior, then enter the awe-inspiring interior and view it's sacred objects.

The basilica holds the distinction of being the first church devoted to the Virgin Mary, and is one of the most important pilgrimage churches in Spain after Santiago de Compostela. Since the Middle Ages, pilgrims have journeyed here to honour an image of the Virgin Mary and the Sacred Column, a pillar made of jasper stone.

Tradition holds that on 2 January 40 AD, Saint James the Great, the apostle who is believed by tradition to have brought Christianity to the country was deep in prayer. While he was deep in prayer by the banks of the Ebro, the Mother of God appeared to him and gave him a column of jasper and instructed him to build a church in her honor.

Saint James built a small chapel dedicated to Saint Mary on this spot, making it the first Marian shrine in Christendom. Several other churches were later built on the site before the grand Basilica we see today. The basilica displays the Virgen del Pilar (Our Lady of Pilar) figure behind a mantelpiece. This icon is taken out and presented to the faithful every year on January 2nd, commemorating the date when the Virgin appeared.

The other sacred object, the Sagrada Columna, also known as "El Pilar", is now adorned with ornate silver plating. Other valuable religious artworks and lavish Baroque monuments are found throughout the basilica. Of special interest are the alabaster high altarpiece and the frescoes by Goya.

Basilica of Our Lady of Pilar and Rio Ebro River

Basilica of Our Lady of Pilar

Basilica of Our Lady of Pilar

2. Museum of the Roman Forum of Caesaraugusta

The Museum of the Roman Forum provides a glimpse into the life of Caesaraugusta, an ancient Roman town of the 1st and 2nd centuries that once occupied present day Zaragoza. Named after Emperor Augustus who founded the town, Caesaraugusta was known for its splendors. The city had a theater, public baths, and a marvelous forum at the center of town life. This exhibition space is at the archaeological space surrounding the Caesaraugusta forum. The museum stands on the site of the archaeological excavations, underneath the Plaza de la Seo. On display are remains of the Roman Forum that dates back to the era of Emperor Tiberius. Visitors will see artifacts that represent elements of the old market, walls of shops, pipes, and a sewer system. The exhibits are complemented by educational information and an interesting audio-visual presentation.

Museum of the Roman Forum

Archaeological excavations underneath the Plaza de la Seo.

Archaeological excavations underneath the Plaza de la Seo.

3. Cathedral and Tapestry Museum

Dedicated to Saint Salvador, the Cathedral of Zaragoza is known as Catedral de la Seo or simply La Seo. This cathedral was built in the 12th century on the site of the Roman temple of the Forum, which became a Visigoth church and then a large Muslim mosque during the Moorish era, before being converted to a Romanesque church in the 12th century. The old mosque's minaret is the present cathedral's tower, and the building still displays Romanesque elements, in particular on the exterior of the apses.

La Seo Cathedral is an enormous church with five naves, and two of the apses have retained the original Romanesque character of the 12th century with exquisitely sculpted arcades. The Moorish influence can be seen near the altar and in some of the archways, while the choir is Gothic in style, and the Capilla del Santo Cristo is a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture. Adding to the architectural melange are the Neoclassical facade and Baroque details on the tower.

The cathedral also houses a superb Tapestry Museum. This collection of tapestries is considered to be one of the finest in the world. In its possession, the cathedral has 63 precious Flemish tapestries and six works of heraldic embroidery of very high quality, ranging from medieval to Renaissance and Baroque.

The museum displays 11 of the tapestries, as well as other objects of religious art including metalwork and reliquary busts. The cathedral and tapestry museum are open to the public daily. Admission includes entrance to both.

Cathedral de San Salvador

Tapestry Museum

4. Aljafería Palace

In the heart of Zaragoza, the Aljafería Palace was the 11th century fortified Moorish castle. The formidable defenses are well preserved, with remains of immense towers that once surrounded the castle. The castle was designed on a quadrangular plan around a courtyard, and the towers are all round except for a single rectangular tower, known as the Troubadour's Tower. The Islamic style coffered ceilings and plasterwork ornamentation give the building its charm.

Today, the Palacio de la Aljafería houses the headquarters of the Aragonese Parliament. The palace is open to the public daily from April through October and Saturday through Wednesday the rest of the year. Guided tours are available. 

Aljafería Palace

5. San Pablo Church

An important example of Aragon Mudéjar style, this church is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its exceptional architectural and historic value. San Pablo Church was built in the 13th and 14th centuries to replace a small Romanesque chapel, then located on the outskirts of the town. With its single nave and vaulted ceilings, the interior has a sense of spaciousness. Chapels between the buttresses display exquisite works of art. During the 15th and 18th centuries, the church was further enhanced and enlarged.

A must see piece of the Renaissance period is the main altarpiece devoted to Saint Paul, crafted from gilded wood by sculptor Damián Forment in 1515. The most noteworthy feature of this monument is its magnificent octagonal Mudéjar tower featuring exceptional Moorish design details.

San Pablo Church

6. La Lonja

This splendid 16th century building stands on the grand Plaza del Pilar, across from the basilica. La Lonja is the historic marketplace of Zaragoza, where merchants carried out their trading and other commercial transactions. Designed by Juan de Sariñena, the structure is the city's best example of Aragonese Renaissance architecture. The building, constructed in brick, features a rectangular plan and a decorative facade with rows of uniform arched windows and depictions of the kings of Aragón in medallions. The interior holds the building's most impressive features, a series of stone columns, which were sculpted from the remains of the city's former Roman walls. Created by Juan de Segura, the columns turn into defined arches, appearing to turn into palm trees.

La Lonja

7. Pablo Serrano Museum

This Museum is dedicated to the work of this accomplished Aragonese artist. The museum's collection spans Pablo Serrano's work from his Figurative period to his Expressionist stage. Exhibits display 140 drawings and sculptures, which reflect the evolution of the artist's creativity and innovation. The museum also displays works by the artist's wife, Juana Francés; contemporary graphic art works; and an assortment of paintings by Santiago Lagunas. In addition, the museum hosts a variety of changing exhibits, which feature a range of artists, both past and contemporary. To get the most out of a visit, take a guided tour.

Pablo Serrano Museum

8. Basílica of Santa Engracia Church

This Renaissance church was once part of the Hieronymite Monastery of Santa Engracia, however the rest of the monastery no longer exists. Built in the 16th century, the church features a remarkable Plateresque facade, which is considered a jewel of Aragonese Renaissance architecture. The building was begun in 1511 by Gil Morlanes, completed by his son in 1517, and renovated in the 18th century. The facade is almost like an altar with its elaborate reliefs, medallions, and sculptures of various characters and saints. Four niches at the sides represent the parents of the Western Church. The upper niches feature the Virgin of the Holy Mass and King Ferdinand, patron of the church. The iconography also depicts Saint Valero, Saint Vincent, Saint Jerome, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, and Saint John the Baptist. The crypt houses 4th century Paleo Christian tombs.

Basílica of Santa Engracia Church

9. Museum of the Public Baths of Caesaraugusta

Dating to the 1st century, the thermal baths of Caesaraugusta were an important center of social life for the ancient Romans. More than just a place for bathing, the public baths brought people together to play sports, read, and listen to music or poetry. Typical of public baths found in the ancient Roman empire, the facilities included hot-water and cold-water baths. Bathers could alternate between the two baths, but most started with hot and then finished with cold. Men and women were separated in different areas of the baths, or used them at different times. The city of Caesaraugusta was well supplied with fresh water and managed the maintenance of the baths. Today, visitors can explore the history of the baths, as well as some of their remains in this Public Baths Museum. Guided tours are available.

Thermal baths of Caesaraugusta

10. Santa María Magdalena

The Iglesia de Santa Maria Magdalena was built in the early 14th century on the site of an ancient Roman temple and updated in the 17th century with Baroque details. The most distinctive feature of the Saint Mary Magdalen Church is the tower, characteristic of Aragonese Mudéjar architecture; the ornamental geometric patterns mimic an Almohad-style minaret. Motifs of decorative glazed ceramics add to the Moorish look. The interior features an unusual apse with overlapped arches and pointed windows, also typical of Mudéjar style. The main altarpiece is adorned with 18th century sculptures and images by Jose Ramirez de Arellano.

Saint Mary Magdalen Church

11. Roman Theater Museum

On the Route of Caesaraugusta sites, the ancient Roman theater was discovered in 1972 and the site is now enclosed in a special exhibition space. Visitors will discover an important monument that was of great social importance to the ancient Romans in the 1st century. The archaeological remains give a sense of the grandeur of the original theater and the lifestyle. The site includes an exposition hall and a cafeteria.

Ancient Roman theater

San Juan de los Panetes church

This old Romanesque church located next to the Basilica de el Pilar and adjacent to the Roman old wall at the end of the Plaza del Pilar.

On its site, there used to be a medieval church of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. The new church was ordered built by the Gran Castellan Vicente de Oña and was finished in 1725. The façade is Baroque and has two parts. The upper part has a niche with the figure of San Juan Bautista. The lower part has an arch with pilasters on either side of the doorway.

The tower is octagonal, made of brick and has a slight inclination towards the Basilica del Pilar that is clearly visible to tourists. The church was declared a Historic-Artistic Monument and in 1935 suffered a major fire. Since then the walls have been smoothed out and whitewashed. The fire destroyed most of the artistic treasures in the church and the only thing that was salvaged was a crucifix from the 16th century. The pilasters and stucco decorations have been cleaned. The interior of the church has three naves of equal size and height. The vaults are decorated in the Baroque style and have lunettes. There is a cupola at the crossing that is decorated with the crosses of Malta.

San Juan de los Panetes church

San Juan de los Panetes church and it's leaning tower.

Museum of the Roman Forum of Caesaraugusta

 

START HERE

This underground museum is located in the present day La Seo square adjacent to the Plaza del Pilar Square and houses the archaeological remains discovered during excavations carried out between 1988-1991 in this part of the city and which have been preserved at their original site. The architectural structures essentially date back to two stages in the city´s history. The oldest structures date from the foundation of the Roman city, in the time of the Emperor Augustus, and show the remains of a market, drinking water supply pipes, a sewer with its channels and the odd shop wall. From a later date, some thirty years later during the period of the Emperor Tiberius, there are remains of a spacious forum, a large sewer, channels and foundations of a sector of the porticoes and adjoining establishments. 

THE FORUM

The forum was the nerve centre of the Roman city, the hub of religious, civil, economic and political life as well as municipal administration. It was generally located at the intersection of the city´s main road axes: Cardus and Decumanus, but in Caesaraugusta the forum was situated nearer to the Ebro, without doubt due to the trade activity which the river generated as a centre for the reception and distribution of different goods. The layout of a forum was planned around a large open space, paved with large slabs and surrounded by one or several porticoes leading to the most significant buildings: the Curia (building of a political nature), the Basilica (legal-administrative nature) and the Temple (religious nature). Alongside these buildings there were taverns, commercial establishments and other buildings related to the administration.

Exploring Zaragoza



Located in the heart of Zaragoza, near the imposing Basilica del Pilar 
and just a few meters from the Central Market. Also close to Zaragoza's cultural and nightlife attractions. This modern hotel and leading venue in Zaragoza for art, culture and leisure, with comfortable designer rooms that will make your stay an enjoyable and unique experience. Be surprised by the unique style of the city. Just a few steps away from the main tourist attractions and with the best leisure facilities in the area. Savour a cocktail on its popular rooftop bar with views over the city while listening to music you will love.

Casa Lac Restaurant

One of the oldest restaurants in Spain, Casa Lac dates all the way back to 1825. Housed in a stunning building that was renovated a century later in 1925, Casa Lac has modernist influences such as wrought-iron staircases and bright, colourful tiles. The top floor, where the restaurant is located, is Elizabethan in style, with patterned wooden floors and beautiful vintage lamps. Today, the restaurant is led by chef Ricardo Gil, who creates delicious and delicate plates with an emphasis on fresh vegetables.

La Pilara Restaurant

La Pilara is definitely one of Zaragoza’s most interesting places to eat, decorated with bright red walls, intricately patterned ceilings, old advertisements and posters, and giant wine corks holding up the bar. It is located in the city’s tapas quarter and is a great place to go for big sharing raciones of classic tapas. Order the crispy breaded calamari, the cod-stuffed peppers or sirloin steak with a bubbly Cava sauce.

Donde Siempre. Fantastic tapas restaurant in Zaragoza, most recommended by the locals.