Spain Guide

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Zaragoza is the capital of the Spanish province of the same name and of the autonomous community of Aragon. It's the fifth largest city in Spain, located midway between Madrid and Barcelona, but it's one of the least known of all the major Spanish cities. International tourists generally overlook Zaragoza yet if you take the time to explore its ancient streets you'll uncover a wealth of fascinating historic sites and some truly monumental buildings. The people here are renowned for their friendliness, the Aragonese cuisine is excellent and because the city remains largely untouched by tourism it has a more Spanish feel to it than the more popular cities and coastal resorts.

If you can pronounce its name correctly, you're already half way there. The "z" in Spanish is pronounced as "th" so Zaragoza becomes "tharagotha". The story goes that one of the Spanish kings had a terrible lisp and rather than risk offending him by pointing out his speech defect, his courtiers imitated the lisp thus corrupting the whole of the Spanish language (this may not be true but it makes a good story!). Official tourist site for Zaragoza.

The city has developed at the head of the mighty River Ebro, the biggest river in Spain which attracted Iberian tribes to settle here more than 2,000 years ago. The Iberians called the town Salduba and the Moorish invaders of the 8th century named it Saraqusta. But the current name comes from the Romans whose legions established an important city here in the year 24 BC and named it after their emperor Caesaraugusta (Augustus Caesar). The old quarter retains the rectangular structure of the ancient Roman city and you can still see the excavated remains of the forum, amphitheatre and public spa baths.

Zaragoza's strategic location at the centre of the northeast corner of Spain has enabled it to develop into a dynamic business centre which hosts regular international trade fairs and conferences. It's 322 kilometres north east of the Spanish capital, Madrid, 306 kilometres west of the country's second biggest city, Barcelona, and 200 kilometres south of the French border. Flying time from London to Zaragoza's international airport is about two hours.

The city is the headquarters of the Aragonese government which is based within the magnificent Aljaferia Moorish palace (the most beautiful of its kind outside Andalucia). The 11th century palace was built by the Arab invaders to provide protection for their sultan in sumptuous surroundings. It's a fairytale castle which was once home to the Catholic monarchs King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and is now a national monument.

Like the more famous Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, Zaragoza is an important destination for religious pilgrims who have journeyed here for centuries to worship at the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar. The 16th century takes its name from the pillar on the banks of the River Ebro where the Virgin Mary reputedly appeared before St James and commanded him to build a church.

One of Zaragoza's greatest claims to fame is that it produced one of Spain's finest ever painters, Francisco de Goya who was the last of the old masters and widely regarded as the Father of Modern Art. Goya was born in 1746 in the village of Fuendetodos about 25 kilometres south east of the city. His frescoes adorn many of the historic buildings in and around the city and some of his most important works are on display in local museums.