Situated by the mighty Ebro river, the great city of Zaragoza is a less visited gem in northeastern Spain but has its fair share of amazing landmarks. After two slow days at the medieval Girona, Zaragoza with its feisty atmosphere and impressive sceneries gave us a pleasant, refreshing contrast.
If there is one thing to see in Zaragoza, it must be the breathtaking Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar. Stretching 130 meters long by 67 wide with 4 soaring towers and 11 cupolas, the basilica exudes imposing grandiosity.
However, viewed from the other side of the Ebro river, this 17th century, Baroque-styled, basilica looks like it came straight from a fairy tale. Dazzlingly beautiful and inspiring at all time of the day, from early morning…
and at night:
After some time traveling in Europe, I have been to quite a number of churches, but Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar is among my favorites. I was prepared to be disappointed with the inside, because c’mon, what can possibly match such resplendent exterior and its sheer size? Once inside, however, I was once again marveled at the basilica’s palatial interior, especially at the numerous vaults and domes painted with frescoes, some by Francisco Goya himself. No photo is allowed, though.
Apart from the Basilica, a walk around the city center took us to a few other notable landmarks, like the Stone Bridge (Puente de Piedra):
The lions (also symbols of the city) placed on two pillars at the end of the bridge:
Sunrise over the Ebro river, viewed from the Stone Bridge:
The Roman Catholic La Seo Cathedral is another gorgeous establishment, especially its Romanesque apse with mudéjar additions:
Like several other Spanish cities, underneath the streets of Zaragoza are the ruins of a Roman colony known as Caesar Augustus, founded by the Roman’s at the end of the 1st century BC. The Zaragoza’s Roman theater must be the most impressive remnant of the city:
Scattered about Zaragoza are the fragments of the wall that once encircled the city:
Around 3km away from the city center lies Aljafería Palace, which, together with the Basilica, was our main reason to visit Zaragoza. Built in the 11th century as a pleasure residence for Zaragoza’s Islamic rulers, the fortified palace was somewhat modified by its subsequent rulers when the city was passed to Christian hand in early 12th century. Despite alterations and the decaying power of time, Aljafería still retains its distinctive Islamic flair and is considered one of the finest examples of Islamic-era edifice in Spain.
Perhaps the facade of Aljafería is not the most inspiring thing in the world, but once inside, you will see these typical Islamic interwoven arches with their exquisite intricacy:
The striking horseshoe-arched doorway leads into the mihrab:
Time has damaged much of the palace’s opulence, but some remnants of the pillars and the arches can give us an idea of how sumptuous it must have been once in its heyday:
The court yard:
Onto the second floor, you can see Aljafería’s Christian-influenced alterations, arguably much less interesting :)
All in all, we quite enjoyed our stay in Zaragoza, but one of the main reasons is that we had a terrific tapas feast there (will blog later!). The city is beautiful with spectacular architectures, yet it can be expensive and time-consuming to get to. Unlike Girona, where you can reach from Barcelona after 30 mins on the express train for 15 euros (1 hour with regional train for 8 euros), and thus ideal for a day trip, Zaragoza is a lot farther and costs much more to arrive from Barcelona. Nevertheless, if you can make it here, everywhere you go you can capture a postcard photo…