Amidst the rolling hills of the Pyrenean foothills, the picturesque provincial capital of Zaragoza fascinates with its diverse gems of culture and architecture. Surrounded by fields, meadows and the winding meanders of the river Ebro, you can enjoy relaxing city breaks here at the foot of the Pyrenees in Aragon. Whether shopping through the lively markets of Zaragoza, leisurely walks along the Ebro or simply enjoying the cultural highlights of Zaragoza in the numerous museums, the capital of Aragon captivates with flair and the best location.
Tip 1: Basilica del Pilar
In the northern part of the old town stands the main sight of the region. The Basílica del Pilar is the landmark of Zaragoza and, among other things, one of the most popular photo motifs of the city.
The building actually bears the full name “Cathedral-basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragoza”. It is a Roman Catholic church, which – at least in its current form – was built during the Baroque period. However, the history of the building goes far back into the past.
The church was built in honor of the Virgin Mary. Among other things, the Mother of God was given a special monument by a pillar integrated into the structure.
Here is depicted the scene from the Bible in which the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to the Apostle James.
Many believe that James wanted to convert as many people as possible to Christianity. When the great success failed to materialize, the apostle is said to have despaired. In Saragossa, the Virgin Mary appeared to him and assured him of help.
Tip 2: Aljafería
On what is now the western edge of the city, the Moors built the Castillo de la Aljafería in the 11th century, which was later used as the castle of the Kings of Aragon and was largely destroyed in 1809.
The Catholic Monarchs and eventually the Inquisition also resided here. The Aljafería is the only Moorish building preserved in Zaragoza.
The interiors are extraordinary, of which the magnificent small mosque on the first floor stands out.
A unique Gothic staircase with coffered ceiling leads to the upper rooms, the Palace of the Catholic Monarchs. Its focal point is the Throne Room, which has a richly worked and painted Artesonado ceiling.
In the Sala de Santa Isabel, Saint Elizabeth of Portugal was born in 1271. The Torre del Trovador was a prison during the time of the Inquisition. Part of Verdi’s “Troubadour” is set here.
Tip 3: Cathedral of the Savior of Zaragoza
In the Plaza de la Seo you can admire the Cathedral of El Salvador de la Seo. Its origins date back to Roman times, where in the same place once stood a temple in the forum. In the 8th century, the Arabs built a mosque. However, after the arrival of the Aragonese King Alfonso I at the beginning of the 12th century, a different wind blew. Although the mosque was not directly destroyed, the Moors were given a period of one year to leave not only the mosque, but also the city directly. He then had the mosque rebuilt into a Romanesque church.
Two centuries later there were further reconstructions with Gothic influences. The Romanesque apses remained, but a Mudejar-style cathedral and the famous Parroquieta, a small chapel that Archbishop Don Lope Fernández de Luna had planned as a burial chapel, were built instead. The construction, especially the outer wall, is still considered one of the most impressive examples of Mudéjar craftsmanship, with its incomparable geometric drawings in the soft stone, as well as the famous ceramic tiles.
Tip 4: Puente de Piedra
A particularly elaborate testimony to late Gothic architecture is the Puente de Piedra (Stone Bridge) in Zaragoza. The oldest bridge over Spain’s second longest river, the Ebro, once again amazes the observer with the engineering feats that master builders were already capable of at the beginning of the 15th century. In a construction phase lasting decades, historians are uncertain about the exact dates, a mighty stone bridge was created.
As early as the 12th century, the citizens of Zaragoza were interested in a bridge over the wide river Ebro. In the middle of the 14th century or the beginning of the 15th century, the longed-for project was finally realized and finished in 1437 in typical late Gothic design. However, over the centuries the Puente de Piedra did not keep its original shape. Especially because of floods it was renovated several times. The renovations that followed can finally be dated to 1659 and were carried out by the architect Felipe des Busignac.
As part of this construction work, the two damaged towers were replaced. Further destruction of the Puente de Piedra occurred during military conflicts with the French army, which blew up part of the bridge during its retreat in July 1813. A year later, the reconstruction works on it were already finished, so that the then King Ferdinand VII could cross it. Today, the Puente de Piedra in Zaragoza presents itself as a colossal crossing and is called the Bridge of Lions. Four large bronze lions, the symbol of the city of Zaragoza, adorn the four skin pillars of the stone structure since 1991.
Tip 5: Goya Museum
The building that now houses the Goya Museum once belonged to the minor nobleman Geronimo Cosida. The house is considered one of the finest examples of urban architecture of the time.
The museum, under the name of Goya Museum – Ibercaja Collection, has the objective of researching and disseminating knowledge about Francisco Goya. The museum owns 500 works, 39 of which are newly acquired. However, 15 works by Goya are particularly valuable, as well as a complete collection of his engravings and works by artists who lived before or at the same time as him. Today, the Goya Museum is considered the leading center for the study of the artist’s work in Aragon.
Of the museum’s recent acquisitions, 28 are from the Ibercaj collection, including drawings by Goya, various works by Francisco Baio, and works by Aragonese artists. Visitors to the museum can explore these and other works of art with the help of new technologies – audio guides and information panels with detailed descriptions of more than 300 works in different languages.