Zaragoza, SpainProvince of Aragon
Travel to Zaragoza and marvel at it's 2000 year history
Although Zaragoza is Spain’s fifth largest city, it is rarely talked about and is visited by few international tourists who travel to cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Bilbao or Málaga.
Zaragoza used to be its own kingdom and has over 2,000 years of history.
It had been ruled by the Romans, the Moors and the Christian kings. Today, you can see remains of Zaragoza’s history in the Roman ruins at the Museo del Foro de Caesaraugusta, the original Mudéjar Palacio de la Aljafería, and the baroque Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar.
We were fortunate to have visited Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar twice in 2019. The first time in the summer and the second time was during the Fiestas del Pilar. It was an incredible experience to witness and be part of this tradition.
In this post, we will share with you some of the things to see and do while visiting Zaragoza, Spain including our special time at Las Fiestas del Pilar.
Palacio de la Aljafería
One of the best examples of Hispano-Muslim architecture in Spain is the Palacio de la Aljafería. Built in the 11th Century, it is a fortified Islamic palace and decorated with elegant Arabic arches and intricate carving that contain some of the best Mudéjar elements outside of Andalusia. It was used as the palace of the Catholic Kings and later on, as military baracks. Present day, it is the headquarters of parliament of the autonomous region of Aragón.
Guided visits or self-paced audio guides are available.
Museo del Foro
We stopped off at the tourist info at Plaza del Pilar and learned about the special price for the Roman route. You can visit the four Roman museums of Caesaraugusta (Roman Forum, Fluvial Port, Roman Theater and the Public Baths. We knew we wouldn’t have time to visit all 4 on this trip but will take advantage of it on our next trip. It would be interesting to see what life was like in the time of Caesaraugusta.
We were able to visit the Museo del Foro de Caesaraugusta which explores the history of the heart of the old Roman city of Caesaraugusta, where Zaragoza now sits. The ancient city is believed to have been founded in the year 14 BC and is the only Roman city to bear the full name of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus.
Caesaraugusta Theater Museum
These impressive ruins of the Caesaraugusta Theatre stood in the ancient Roman city of the same name and could seat 6,000 people. The size of this theatre is impressive and is in fact, one of the biggest Roman theatres in Spain.
The museum was built on top of Jewish settlements and other cultures where the artifacts are on display.
In the basement, 3D models and audio visuals can transport you to what life was like in Roman times. On the ground level, visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the excavation. On the top floor, you can learn more about the various cultures that lived around this area through some artifacts and audiovisual presentations.
Although you can see the theatre from the street level, it is worth a visit in order to learn and understand the history.
Francisco de Goya, was born in Fuendetodos, a village 44 km south-east of Zaragoza.
One of the best places to find out all about the life and works of one of Spain’s most famous artists, can be found at the Museo Goya. Formally known as The Museo Goya – Colección Ibercaja – Museo Camón Aznar. It opened in 1979 under the name of the art collector who contributed the heart of its collection, Camón Aznar.
Museo Goya displays a collection of 15 of his most prominent paintings that range from his life in Zaragoza (1762–1774) to his time in Bordeaux, where he died in 1828. You can also see the series of engravings created by Goya who is one of the best artistic engravers in history along with Rembrandt and Picasso. The etchings of paintings are: Velázquez; Los Caprichos; Los desastres de la Guerra; La Tauromaquia; y Los Disparates. The other part of the collection features 48 famed works by other artists.
Las Fiestas del Pilar
Zaragoza is home to the largest and most famous festival, Las Fiestas del Pilar. Although it comes from strong religious tradition, it is a celebration of culture and history, music and dance. The highlight is the flower offering to the Virgin del Pilar, the most emblematic act of the Fiestas.
The official date of Las Fiestas del Pilar is October 12th, and lasts for around nine days with the evenings centred on an area of town known as “El Tubo” which is packed with bars and party-goers. If you can, you should also visit Fuente de Colores – Parque Grande in the evening and enjoy its spectacularly lit fountain.
Click here to read more about this festival.
Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar
This impressive baroque cathedral, La Basilica del Pilar, was built on the spot where the James the Apostle (Santiago), one of Jesus’ disciples saw the Virgin Mary.
Legend says, early morning on January 2, 40 C.E. James the Apostle was on the banks of the Ebro River preaching to a group of people. He became discouraged because the group were not believers. Suddenly, he saw the Virgin Mary surrounded by angels and had come to comfort him and renew his spirits. Mary then gave Santiago a jasper pillar as a symbol of the strength of faith he should have. The Column (Pillar) that the Virgin gave to Santiago remains in the same place since then.
Inside, a Roman-style pillar is topped by a statue of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus that dates from the fifteenth century. It is housed in a chapel of marble, jasper, and gilded bronze that forms almost a church-within-a-church.
Next to the entrance to the cathedral, is a shop that sells Cintas del Pilar. These brightly coloured ribbons (Cintas) is one of the most charming customs associated with Virgen del Pilar. This tradition began in 1677 when people would ask to have a manta of the Virgin (one of the vestments that cover the pillar) brought to them when they were sick or dying. The requests became too numerous to accommodate, and so the church began to offer ribbons that are about 36.5 cm (15 inches in length), the same height of the statue on top of the pillar.
Catedral del Salvador de Zaragoza and Museo de Tapices
No picture taking allowed. I was alone in one of the room of tapestries and a security person nicely asked me to stop taking photos and delete the ones I had taken on my phone. Sadly, I was so excited to see the tapestries I didn’t see the sign.
This tapestry collection is one of the best from the Flemish school of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries can be found at La Catedral del Salvador also known as La Seo. Owned and housed there, you can see the woven tapestries that were created in the famous European workshops of Arras, Tournai and Brussels.
Imagine yourself surrounded by these tapestries that were once used to insulate from the cold and humidity aside from decorative functions. Each one tells a story and you will be able to understand each one if you read it like text, from left to right and from top to bottom.
The donated collection is made up of more than 60 Flemish tapestries and 6 confectioners, which kings, archbishops, canons and the council itself. Why was it donated? The quality, rarity, antiquity and value is part of Spanish heritage.
Mercado Central Zaragoza
Zaragoza’s Mercado Central is the city’s main public market. It was first opened in 1903 and has since been declared a National Historic Monument. It has an attractive façade with dramatic exposed ironwork. Inside you will find 74 stalls ranging from seafood and meat to vegetables, cheese and baked goods. It is spacious, well-lit and clean and architecturally, it has columns and archways.
At the time of our visit, the market was under major renovation. We are looking forward to seeing it completed at our next visit to Zaragoza.