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Basílica del Pilar, Bild: Iakov Filimonov / shutterstock

Zaragoza: northern Spanish regional capital with an eventful history

Zaragoza, one of the largest cities in Spain today, looks back on an eventful history. Initially, the Romans settled in the northern Spanish city. Even today, Roman ruins and a city wall preserved from this time characterize Zaragoza. The Romans were followed by the Visigoths and finally by the Moors. They all left their mark as well. Today, Zaragoza is an exciting mix of old and new. Since 1860, the number of inhabitants has increased tenfold. In order to be able to offer space to all the new settlers who flocked to the city as a result of industrialization, there was a real building boom, which, however, has not detracted from the charm of the city to this day.

The Plaza del Pilar as the center of the city

Plaza del Pilar, Zaragoza
Plaza del Pilar, Image: saiko3p / shutterstock

The city’s main square impresses with a size of 18,000 square meters and connects to the banks of the Ebro River in a rectangular shape. Around the huge open space, the most beautiful buildings of Zaragoza are grouped. In the middle is the fountain Fuente de la Hispanidad. Otherwise, bars and restaurants, which invite you to stop for a bite to eat at any time of the day or night, shape the face of the famous city centre.

The Basilica of Nuestra Señora del Pilar: a Baroque highlight

Translated, the Roman Catholic basilica means “Our Lady on the Pillar”. As the most sublime building in the city, it is directly adjacent to the Plaza del Pilar, and also enjoys an idyllic riverside location. As early as 40 AD, according to a legend, the Virgin Mary appeared here to the apostle James the Elder: on a pillar. Hence the current name of the basilica. Even then, a chapel was built on this site, around the pillar. Later, a church was built over it, until finally, from 1681, today’s basilica was built on top. Inside and out, it is a real gem. The main altar is made of alabaster, the frescoes are by Francisco de Goya. The church is a listed building. During a visit, you should not miss the ascent to the north-west tower, which is open to visitors. Because once at the top, a magnificent panorama over the whole of Zaragoza unfolds. The domes of the basilica can also be admired from there.

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Visit to the city’s most famous son: the Colección Ibercaja at the Museo Goya

Francisco de Goya was born about 30 kilometers from Zaragoza and is considered the city’s most famous son. He achieved world fame as a painter. The Museo Goya, housed in a sublime 16th-century building, houses 60 of his most famous works of art.

The Aljafería Municipal Palace: a Moorish fortress from the 11th century

Aljaferia, Zaragoza
The Aljaferia City Palace, Image: Leonid Andronov / shutterstock

Historically cloudy is the Aljafería city palace, which can be found on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The palace was built by its Muslim builders as a mixture of defensive structure and recreation temple. Externally, it looks like an Arab castle, with a square floor plan and a rectangular minstrel tower. The other fortress towers are round. The building, which is now used as the regional parliament of the Aragon region, of which Zaragoza is the capital, surrounds an open courtyard. The highlight is the elaborately designed walkway. An audio guide provides information about the origin of the city palace and the special features of the Moorish architecture, which can also be rented in German.

The Museum of the Caesaraugusta Colony

Visually very modern, the museum of the Caesaraugusta colony takes you back to Roman times. The remains of the ancient Roman Forum, which was built during the time of Emperor Tiberius, have been integrated into the newly built museum. In addition, the remains of a market, various pipes, a sewer and some walls of shops from the time of Emperor Augustus have been excavated here. They all date back to the time when Zaragoza, as the city used to be called, was founded. An audiovisual installation also tells visitors about Roman times in Spain.

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The Bridge of the Third Millennium

Things are now very modern here. The Bridge of the Third Millennium was built on the occasion of the 2008 World Exhibition held in Zaragoza. With a span of 216 meters, it is the largest concrete suspension bridge in the world. The bridge weighs 24,000 tons and offers six lanes for cars as well as two cycle paths and footpaths. The footpaths are completely glazed and allow pedestrians to cross the bridge with dry feet even in the worst rainy weather. Furthermore, the two glass tubes ensure a particularly aesthetic appearance of the bridge.

The Plaza de Toros de Zaragoza

Some people may have mixed feelings when it comes to bullfighting. However, bullfighting is one of the oldest traditions in Spain, which is why the Plaza de Toros de Zaragoza, the second oldest bullring in Spain, is also worth a visit. After a construction period of only 70 days, the bullring from 1764 is said to have been completed. It was made of stone, which was not yet common at the time, and its operation served a social purpose. Ramón Pignatelli, the director of the Real Casa de Misericordia, i.e. the city’s hospital for the dying, had commissioned the construction of the arena. The proceeds from the bullfights were to be used to finance the hospital and death house. In 19. and In the 20th century, the arena was rebuilt and modernized. In the past, the bull arena held 14,300 spectators. After the last renovation, there are only 10,000 left. The diameter of the combat area is 48 meters. The highlight of the open round: The arena can be completely covered by building a sail roof made of Teflon silk.