Spain Guide

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Zaragoza is a bustling city with nearly three quarters of a million inhabitants but you can explore all the major places of interest on foot. The old quarter is awash with palaces, museums and monuments and when you become footsore you can take refuge in one of the many traditional tapas bars or restaurants which offer the excellent local wines and regional dishes of Aragon.

One of the major places of interest to visit is the magnificent Moorish palace of Aljaferia a magical, fairytale castle built for the Arab sultans in the late 11th century and now home to the regional assembly of Aragon. The palace was used by the catholic monarchs King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella who installed the fabulous throne room for their use in the 15th century. It's seen many alterations and additions since its original construction but it remains one of the finest and best preserved examples of Moorish architecture in the whole of Spain. The complex includes a mosque, inner courtyard, fountains, pools and some dazzlingly beautiful interlocking arches. The beauty and complexity of some of its features rival the magnificence of the more famous Alhambra Palace in Granada.

Another top attraction is the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar on the bank of the River Ebro. The 16th century basilica houses a tiny statue of the Virgin Mary which has attracted religious pilgrims from far and wide for centuries and is still a source of curiosity for the modern day visitor. The basilica takes its name from the pillar on which the Virgin reputedly stood when she appeared before St James and instructed him to build a church. The interior is adorned with frescoes by Spanish masters Goya and Velazquez and there's a museum which houses the jewels used to decorate the statue during the annual "Day of Pilar". The fiesta takes place on October 12th and is a sight to behold with thousands of locals dressed in traditional Aragonese costume offering flowers to their patroness.

The Seo del Salvador gothic cathedral is an even more impressive building than the basilica. Built between 1119 and 1520, the cathedral is a fabulous concoction of Romanic, Gothic, renaissance and Arab architectural styles. Its museum houses an important collection of French and Flemish tapestries from the 15th to the 17th centuries. The 17th century El Pilar Cathedral boasts walls painted by Zaragoza's most famous son Francisco Goya and his brother in law Francisco Bayeu.

More Goya works, including a self portrait, can be seen at the city museum in Plaza de los Sitios. The building has 10 exhibition rooms charting Zaragoza's history from prehistoric times through to the era of the Moors. Four rooms are devoted to the age of the Romans who named the city after their emperor Caesar Augusta; exhibits include a bust of the emperor, mosaics and ceramics.

Sections of the Roman walls which surrounded the town 2,000 years ago can still be seen and in the city's three museums devoted to its Roman founders the Foro Romano, the Termas Publicas de Caesaraugusta and the Caesaraugusta River Port Museum you can see excavated remains of the Roman forum, theatre and public spa baths.