Sightseeing in Zaragoza
Zaragoza’s Casco Viejo spans the south bank of the Río Ebro between the Puente de Santiago and the Puente del Pilar; the focal point of activity in this old quarter is the grand Plaza del Pilar, easily located one block south of the river between the Puente de Santiago and Puente de Piedra. Don’t waste your time wandering around the north bank, as it is basically a residential subdivision that has sprung up during the past 20 years. The Plaza de España serves as a landmark in defining the Casco Viejo from the other, more notable neighborhood that sprung up south of it during the 19th and 20th centuries. The main streets of this later area radiate from the Plaza Paraiso.
Around the Plaza del Pilar
This oblong plaza extends along the riverbank from the Plaza de Cesar Augusto to the Plaza de la Seo, encompassing a spectacular range of monuments ranging from Roman times to the present. The Plaza de Cesar Augusto on the western end preserves remains of the original Muralla Romano (RomanWall), the 15th-century Mudéjar Torreón de la Zuda and the 17th-century Baroque Iglesia de San Juan de los Panetes.
The Plaza del Pilar is focused around the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, to the right of which is the 20th-century Casa Consistorial (town hall) and the Renaissance Palacio de la Lonja, a former commodities exchange constructed in the 16th century. At the far end, the Plaza de La Seo is recognizable by the glass cube erected to showcase further Roman excavations. Facing this plaza is the Catedral de San Salvador and to the left of it the 18th-century Neo-Classical Palacio del Arzobispo.
Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar
The leading monument of Zaragoza, this mammoth Baroque temple was constructed in the 17th century in honor of the Virgen of El Pilar, patroness of the Hispanic world. The Virgin’s miniscule 15th-century wooden image, the Sagrado Imagén, is displayed on a jewel-laden pedestal in the Camarín del Virgin in the basilica’s Capillo Santo (Holy Chapel). The marble pillar known as la columna is said to have protected the church when bombs were dropped on it during the Spanish CivilWar. According to legend, the Virgin Mary appeared atop the pillar to the Apostle Saint James in 40 AD, endowing the stone with miraculous properties that have since manifested themselves and inspired devout visitors to rub it smooth with kisses.
A glance up and around reveals bright frescoes and cupolas painted by both Goya and his brother-in-law Francisco Bayeu. Among them is the beautiful Queen of the Martyrs, depicting the Virgin Queen hovering amid angels and Arogonese saints in the dome of the north aisle. For an angel-like high, an elevator leads to the top of one of the basilica’s four towers where there is an aerial view of the city.
Museo Pilarista houses the gifts that have been bestowed on the Virgin of the Pilar since the 16th century, including the ornate mantels on which she is rotated and her bejeweled robes. The sketches by Goya were used in formulating his plans for the basilica’s decoration.
Catedral de San Salvador
Otherwise known as La Seo, the city’s main cathedral is a showcase of styles that evolved during its construction between the 12th and 18th centuries. The earliest examples are its Romanesque apse, followed in later centuries by the addition of the stunning Mudéjar Capilla de Parroquieta (Parish Chapel), the Gothic altarpiece, a Neo-Classical portal and the Baroque tower, which encases the Moorish minaret once belonging to the mosque that was demolished on this spot. The Museo Tapicería displays a fine collection of Flemish tapestries.
With a little imagination it is still possible to visualize the rectangular site of the original Roman town of Caesaraugusta, established by the emperor in 24 BC in the area of the Plaza del Pilar. The Museo Foro Romano de Caesaraugusta shelters excavations in the Plaza de la Seo of a Roman market dated to 19 BC during the time of Caesar Augustus and a town forum built in the first century AD.
The Museo de las Termas Públicas de Caesaraugusta preserves the remains of the Roman city’s public baths, and the Museo del Puerto del Río Caesaraugusta reveals an extension of the town forum dedicated to trading on the banks of the Río Ebro. To reach the ruins of the Teatro Romano, follow Calle Don Jaime I south from the Plaza de la Seo (away from the river) and make a left on Calle Veronica.
Palacio de la Aljafería
What was originally an Islamic palace dating to the ninth century has since undergone extensive expansion and restructuring at the behest of subsequent Catholic rulers. Much of the earliest fortified structure is preserved, however, including the golden niche of the Mihrab where the Arabs prayed, and the ornate Palacio Taifal with its beautiful open-air courtyard and pool surrounded by a lavish arcade of plaster latticework. With the reconquest of Zaragoza in the 12th century under Alfonso I, the Islamic palace made way for churches and the Mudéjar palace of Pedro IV, of which a few stately halls remain. Once the Christian Reconquest was completed in 1492 a new palace was built in the Mudéjar style to honor the Catholic King and Queen and soon thereafter an extensive refurbishment was undertaken to fortify the complex, including the construction of the defensive wall, with its pentagonal bastions at each corner, and the creation of a moat. Today the immaculately restored palace is the seat of the Cortes of the Autonomous Community of Aragón.
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