Zaragoza

Tucked in between two of Spain’s biggest cities – Madrid and Barcelona – along the banks of the Ebro River is the unassuming and quietly impressive city of Zaragoza.

Make no mistake – the capital city of Zaragoza and the community of Aragon is almost as populous as Sevilla but has a more laid-back atmosphere. Its ancient origins (Zaragoza is over 2000 years old) and the different communities that have settled in the place are still remarkably evident through the historical monuments in the streets. There were the Iberians, the Romans who founded the city and called it Caesaraugusta, the Arabs who renamed it Saraqusta, and the Christian Aragonese who won the city over the Moors and made it the capital of the Kingdom of Aragon.

Its best landmark known worldwide, however, is the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar which commemorates the legend of how the Virgin Mary appeared to Saint James the Great in the area and sparked Christianity in Spain. Today thousands of devoted Christian pilgrims still travel to Zaragoza to visit the basilica.

A stroll down the streets of the city will take any visitor down the corridors of its rich history. In Plaza del Pilar Square are three of the most popular and magnificent examples of medieval architecture in Zaragoza: the neo-classical Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Pilar, the gothic Catedral de la Seo built in the 14th century with intricate Renaissance, Plateresque and Baroque elements, and the old stock exchange building called La Lonja which is now used as an exposition hall. Then there are the “Iglesias Mudejares” or Mudejar monuments listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site – the churches of San Pablo, Santa Maria Magdalena, San Miguel, Santiago, San Gil Abad and the monastery of Fecetas.

Another striking architecture with Moorish influence is the Palacio de la Aljaferia, a palace built in the 11th century and now houses the regional parliament of Aragon. Be sure to look up and marvel at the intricate patterns and the gold ceilings.

For vestiges of the Roman Empire there are the Roman Town Walls, the Forum, the Thermal Baths, the River Port and the Caesaraugusta Theatre Museum. And for impressive collections of works by Aragonese artists and Spanish masters such as El Greco and Goya, there is the Museum of Fine Arts. The Museum Camon Aznar displays paintings, scultpures and other works of art by Renaissance artists such as Rubens, Rembrandt, Manet and Renoir and the Museum Pablo Gargallo showcases the works of the famous sculptor.

Zaragoza has hosted many an international event such as the Expo 2008 (World’s Fair), the International Folk Festival and the Pilar Bayona International Piano Competition to name a few.

But most of its celebrations center around religious festivals such as the famous Fiestas del Pilar in October, a nine-day event consisting of colorful parades, street concerts, dancing, bullfighting and fireworks displays. Then there are the Holy Week festivals of Lunes Santo, Domingo de Ramos and Jueves Santo in April and of course the Carnaval in February.

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