Best Sights of Zaragoza

Zaragoza is the 5th largest city in Spain and is located in the province of Aragon, between Madrid and Barcelona. It was recently the site of the Expo 2008 with the theme of the use of water. Zaragoza has a lot to offer the visitor and there are many interesting places to visit. Here are the best sights of the city.

1. Basilica of Our Lady of El Pilar

The Basilica of Our Lady of El Pilar is one of the biggest and most important churches in Spain. The story is that there is a pillar in the church and the Virgin is said to have descended from heaven onto the pillar in an apparition to St. James the Apostle by the banks of the Ebro River. She gave him a small wooden statue of herself and a column of jasper and told him to build a church in her honor. The carving of Our Lady of El Pilar is a Gothic cedar carving that is only 38 cm high. The stand of this sculpture is a column made of jasper that is covered with bronze and silver. This column is 2 meters high and has a diameter of 24 cm. The statue of the Virgin is located in a small chapel at the back of the church. Thousands of pilgrims go to the back of the statue to touch the pillar, because it is said that the Virgin has done a lot of miracles.

Several chapels and churches were built at the site and destroyed with time. The current church was built between 1681 and 1686 by the King Carlos II. In 1725 the church commissioned the architect Ventura Rodriguez to transform the building to the Baroque style. The church now measures 130 by 67 meters. There are large corner towers and a central dome surrounded by ten brightly tiled cupolas. There are two domes that were painted with frescoes by Goya. One of them has the Queen of the Martyrs, and the second one has the Adoration of the Name of God. The final reconstruction was finished in 1872.

2. La Seo Cathedral

La Seo Cathedral is impressive, huge, and everything inside is white. The church was built in 1316 and the style is Gothic-Mudejar. The exterior still shows the brick and the glazed tiles used in the Mudejar design. Many of Aragon’s kings were crowned here and there are many kings and queens that are buried in this church. The Unesco in 2001 declared the church as a World Heritage site. The site of the church used to have a Roman temple, then a Visigothic church, and later a Muslim mosque.

The church has three naves with a transept, cloister, and a semicircular apse. The ceiling of the church is a ribbed vault. There is an octagonal dome that has the Mudejar design. There are additions in Baroque and Plateresque styles. The high altarpiece is in gold and is carved in alabaster and was done by the German Renaissance sculptors Hans Piet of Swabia and Pere Johan, and this is really impressive.

There is a splendid Chapel of San Miguel that is called "la parroquieta". This chapel has a Mudejar coffered ceiling and the chapel has the tomb of the Archbishop Lope Fernandez de Luna. Another chapel is the Chapel of San Valero, which has the skull of St. Valero, the patron saint of the city. There is a tower with a bulb-shaped spire, and this was built in the Baroque style. The facade of the church is Neoclassical. The cathedral has an extensive collection of religious art and there is also a very good Tapestry Museum.

3. The Aljaferia

The Aljaferia is one of the most beautiful palaces in Zaragoza from the 11th century. The Moorish governor of the Taifa kingdom of Sarakosta used it as a summer residence. It is a huge palace surrounded by a large moat. There is a beautiful patio built by the Moorish kings. What is impressive of the patio are the many arches that surround the garden. The arches are scalloped and adorned with very impressive plaster work. There is a niche of the mihrab, the most important portion of the building where prayers were said. There is a very high Moorish ceiling, also beautiful. This palace predates the Alhambra palace in Granada and the Alcazar of Sevilla. Its originality probably influenced the building of those other palaces. Today the palace is used as the seat of the Aragonese Parliament.

4. Pablo Gargallo Museum

The Pablo Gargallo Museum is installed in a renaissance palace, called the Argilio Palace. The palace has been restored beautifully and is built around a central patio. Gargallo was one of the most important early 20th century Aragonese sculptors. Gargallo belonged to the avant garde at that time and worked in Paris. He made beautiful sculpture that is easy to understand. He sculpted bronze horses and male and female nudes. His most beautiful sculpture was art deco, a piece called Kiki de Montparnasse, a mask of a beautiful woman. Kiki was a beautiful model who worked for many of the artists in Paris at that time.

5. The Forum Museum

The Forum Museum is located beneath the plaza containing the Cathedral and Basilica of Our Lady of El Pilar. The plaza was built atop the ruins of the forum. One can see the columns used in the forum, a lot of pottery dug up, and parts of the sewer. The museum has very good explanations about the sewers and the running water in the city, brought to the city by aqueducts. Lead pipes brought water to every house during Roman times.


6. Primo de Rivera Park

The Primo de Rivera Park is the biggest park in the city, named after Primo de Rivera, a politician from the 1920s. There are landscaped gardens, very Italian in design. At the top of a hill is a giant statue of Jaime the Conqueror, one of the kings of Aragon. Below the statue is a very impressive fountain that cascades all the way down the hill in beautiful designs, surrounded by a double staircase. At night everything is lighted.

7. Palacio de Sastago

The Palacio de Sastago is a renaissance palace downtown that has been restored and is used for government offices. Inside the patio is an art gallery which changes exhibitions all the time. The renaissance building has a very impressive design.

8. Patio de las Infantas

The Patio de las Infantas is located in the biggest bank in Aragon, the Ibercaja, and they have a huge office tower. In one wing to the side they have the Patio de las Infantas, which is the patio of a renaissance building. The patio was dismantled from its original place and brought to France in the 19th century by a very rich Frenchman. In the 20th century, Ibercaja bought the patio and brought it back to Zaragoza and put it into the bank, in one wing. So in the very modern bank, one can see this beautiful renaissance patio. The patio is now used as an art gallery, with a permanent collection of 14 very important Goyas. Goya was a native of Aragon and one of the paintings is his self portrait.

9. Church of the Sacred Heart

The Church of the Sacred Heart has something very original. This is the Rosario de Cristal (meaning the crystal rosary). During the religious feast of the city, there is a large procession along the main streets downtown, where they display scenes of religious buildings like the basilica, on wheeled carts. The parade floats are all made of crystal and stained glass, and are lighted from the inside and the people in the procession recite the rosary. This church contains the floats with the exhibits of crystal and stained glass and has a show. The loudspeaker in the church explains each float and the float lights up. So one goes from one float to the other and gets the whole story. The floats are about 10 feet long by 6 feet high.

10. Camon Aznar Museum

The Camon Aznar Museum is installed in a restored renaissance palace that now belongs to the Ibercaja bank. A prominent professor named Camon Aznar donated his 800 works of art to the museum. One can find all the important Spanish artists in the collection, from El Greco to Goya.

11. Central Market

The Central Market is located at Avenida Cesar Augusto, s/n. It is open from Monday to Friday from 9 to 14H, and 17 to 20H. On Saturdays it is open from 9 to 14H. It is closed on Sundays and holidays. It is located by the Roman wall. There was an old market on the site that was started in the 13th century.

The architect of the Central Market was Felix Navarro Perez to replace the open air market, and the construction started in 1902 and was finished a year later. A sculptor who worked on the building with Navarro was Jaime Lluch. The organization that ordered its construction was the Sociedad Nuevo Mercado. This was one of the first Modernist constructions in Zaragoza, and the building used stone, brick, iron and glass, using a basilical plan with three naves. The central nave is higher and wider. The capitals of the iron columns are decorated with designs of acanthus leaves, palms, and fruits. The building was declared a National Historic Monument in 1978 and a Site of Cultural Interest in 1982. The building was renovated in 1986 when refrigerated installations were installed. In 1999 air conditioning and heating were added to the building.

12. La Lonja

The Lonja is a civil building that is located in the Plaza del Pilar and faces the Basilica of El Pilar. It was built between 1541 and 1551 to centralize agricultural trade. The architect was Juan de Sariñena and the person who ordered it built was Hernando de Aragon. The building is the best Renaissance building in Aragon and has a rectangular plan. It was constructed with brick. There are three stories and on the ground floor there are three large entrances topped with semicircular arches. The arches of the higher floors are smaller. The upper floor has medallions with busts. Inside the building one can find columns that support a Gothic star-ribbed vault. Today the building is used for exhibitions.

The building is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10 to 14H, and 17 to 21H. On Sunday the hours are 10 to14H. It is closed on Monday.

13. Palace of Don Lope

The Palace of Don Lope is located at Calle Dormer, 21. Since 1912 it has been the seat of the Real Maestranza de Caballeria of Zaragoza. There are guided tours on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 to 14H.

The building was built by Miguel Don Lope, an important and powerful lawyer, in the 16th century and is one of the best examples of the Renaissance architecture in Aragon. The façade is made of brick and there are three floors in the building, and includes an enclosed balcony. The eaves of the building call attention and were the work of Jaime Fanegas. The main door is topped with a semicircular arch. There is an upper gallery with arches. The interior patio has very rich ornamentation in plaster and uses Ionic columns on the bottom floor and Tuscan columns on the upper floor, and has a design of the Renaissance. The ceiling over the monumental staircase is made of wood and has a beautiful Mudejar design in the cupola. This was the work of Bernat Giner. There are stars, lace-like ornamentation, octagons, and medallions. There are three elaborately decorated salons that were used by the Real Maestranza for meetings. They were designed by Bernat Giner. In one of these salons there is a tapestry of Saint George and shows the saint with the dragon. This is the only tapestry showing the saint in Aragon. The palace was declared as a National Monument in 1931.

14. Roman Walls

The Roman Walls are located at Avenida de Cesar Augusto. They were constructed between the 1st and 3rd centuries under the orders of Tiberius. It reached a length of 3000 meters and had 120 defensive towers. Two parts have been conserved, one near the Torreon de La Zuda and the other forming part of the Convento del Santo Sepulcro. The height of the walls was 10 meters, with a width of 4 meters, and the walls were made of ashlars of limestone. At every interval of 14 to 16 meters, there was a semicircular tower. There were four gates. The northern gate was called El Angel, the eastern gate was called Valencia, the western gate was called Toledo, and the southern gate was called Cinegia. The walls were used by succeeding conquerors, namely the Visigoths and the Moors. Near the walls is a statue of the Emperor Caesar Augustus, a bronze copy of the statue of Augusto of Prima Porta, a gift from the Italian Government to the city in the 1940’s. The statue is part of the Monument to the Four Cultures, which were the Iberian, Roman, Mudejar, and the Modern Zaragoza. The alabaster of the monument has the names of  Salduie, Caesaraugusta, Saraqusta y Zaragoza.

15. Torreon de la Zuda

The Zuda Tower is located at the Glorieta de Pio XII, s/n. It is open from Monday to Saturday from 10 to 14H, and from 16:30 to 20H. On Sunday it is open from 10 to 14H. The tower holds the Municipal Tourist Office and there is an exhibition on the fifth floor. The word “torreon” means large fortified tower.

The Zuda Tower was the homage tower of the Sarakusti Castle and was built on top of the Roman Wall by the Moors. The Moors occupied Zaragoza between 714 and 1118. The Christian King Alfonso the Warrior conquered the city from the Moors on Dec. 18, 1118 and had his troops occupy the Zuda Tower. This symbolized the occupation of the city. From then on it became the residence of the Kings of Aragon until the 13th century, when they started using the Aljaferia Palace. The tower was restored in the second half of the 16th century.

16. Stone Bridge

The Puente de Piedra (Stone Bridge) is located at Paseo Echegaray y Caballero. The bridge is the oldest bridge that crosses the Ebro River. The bridge was built between 1401 and 1440 by Gil de Menestral in the Gothic style. There was a flood in 1643 that destroyed two central bridge spans and in 1659 the architect Felipe de Busignac restored them. In 1789 the architect Agustin Sanz strengthened the Ebro River coast so protect the bridge from further flooding. The bridge is also called the Bridge of Lions because there are four lions that are on the pillars on both sides of the bridge. The lions are the symbol of the city.   

17. Museo de Zaragoza

The Museo de Zaragoza is located at Plaza de los Sitios, 6. The building was built in 1908 for the Hispano-Francesa Exhibition as the Pavilion of the Arts, and the architects were Ricardo Magdalena and Julio Bravo. The façade shows the Allegories dedicated to the Arts, Commerce and Industry. There are also medallions that represent the artists of that era. The museum has an archaeological section that has exhibits dating from Prehistoric times to the Moorish times. The Fine Arts section has collections of painting and sculptures, ceramics, and stamps. There is a salon dedicated solely to Goya.


18. Church of San Pablo

The Church of San Pablo is located at Calle San Pablo, 42. The church occupies the space that was occupied by the Romanesque hermitage of San Blas, which had become too small to hold the congregation. It was built in the 14th century in the Mudejar style. There is only one nave that is covered with a barrel vault and a polygonal top. In the 15th century two lateral naves were added and there were chapels that open to these naves that were built in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. 

The tower has an octagonal plan and it has a 17th century spire that is very high and can be seen from many parts of the city. The exterior tower encloses an inner tower and between them is the staircase. The decoration of the tower is located on the two top floors of the tower. The church and tower are made of brick. The decoration consists of pointed arches and rhomboid friezes. 

The tower is topped by a spire that has a pyramidal cone that was reconstructed in 1849 by Jose Yarza y Miñana. The highest part of the tower is decorated with ceramic tile.

The high altarpiece was made by Damian Forment in 1515 and is of polychromed wood that has been gilded. There is an image of San Pablo in the vaulted niche, flanked by scenes from the life of the saint. There is a painting in the middle that was created by Jeronimo Cosida (16th century) with themes of the Immaculate Concepcion and the Patriarchs of the Old Testament and the Doctors of the Church. 

19. Basilica of Santa Engracia

The Basilica of Santa Engracia is located at Plaza de Santa Engracia. It was constructed in the 15th and 16th centuries and has the Renaissance style. The façade is the only part conserved of the old Monastery of Santa Engracia. The founder of the church was King Juan II of Aragon, who was thankful that his cataracts were cured. His son Fernando el Catolico continued the construction and this was finished by the Emperor Carlos. The façade was damaged during the War of Independence against the French in 1808, but was restored by the sculptor Carlos Palao. The façade was one of the first Renaissance facades and was the work of Gil Morlanes el Viejo and his son, and is carved in alabaster. It is in the form of an altarpiece. The church has two Paleochristian sarcophagi made of marble of three Christian martyrs from the 4th century. These martyrs were Santa Engracia, San Lamberto, and San Lupercio. One of the sarcophagi is called Receptio Animae and is dated from 330-350 AD. The second is called the Trilogia Petrina and dates to 340-350 AD.

20. Church of La Magdalena

The Church of La Magdalena is located in the Plaza de la Magdalena. It was constructed in the 14th century where there was an old Romanesque church from the 12th century. There is only one nave and the apse has a polygonal shape with seven sides. The church has a Mudejar façade and the exterior of the apse is profusely decorated. The Mudejar tower has a square plan and is battlemented and richly decorated with glazed ceramic tile in green and white colors, and has plenty of ornamentation. It resembles the Mudejar church towers of Teruel. Actually the tower consists of two towers, one inside the other with a staircase between them. The tower resembles the Tower of San Martin in Teruel. The main altarpiece was created by the artist Jose Ramirez de Arellano in the 18th century, who was the sculptor of the Santa Capilla in the Basilica of Our Lady of Pilar. There is also an altarpiece by Damian Forment that is found in pieces in two chapels of this church.

21. Church of San Miguel de los Navarros

The Church of San Miguel de los Navarros is located at Calle San Miguel, 52. The church started off as a Romanesque church and a new Mudejar nave was added in the 14th century. There is one original nave and the apse is polygonal in shape, with five sides. The exterior has plenty of Mudejar decoration. The new construction added a new lateral nave. The tower is square shaped in cross section and has three parts, with the two upper parts having profuse decoration. It is topped with a spire from the 18th century. There is a beautiful main altar designed by Damian Forment in the Renaissance style. The retable is made of polychromed wood. The interior of the church was remodeled in the 17th century to have a Baroque design. The choir is exceptionally beautiful with its Baroque design. Over the main door there is a stone sculpture of St. Michael conquering the devil, using the Baroque style. It is located in a niche over the door.

22. Church of Santa Isabel

The Church of Santa Isabel is located at the Plaza del Justicia, 1. The church dates to 1681 and was meant to honor Santa Isabel de Portugal. Isabel was an Infanta of Aragon, daughter of King Pedro III and wife of King Dionisio of Portugal. She was also the mother of Alfonso IV. She was canonized in 1625 and her cult spread quickly in the region.

The monumental façade is exceptional for its beauty and profuse decoration. The style is Churrigueresque and is the only one of its kind in the city. The façade of the church used alabaster in a white color and a dark color, with marble and plaster. The constructors were Jaime Ayer and Francisco Perez. There is a coat of arms of Aragon over the main door. There are statues that honor San Andres Avelino and San Cayetano de Thiene. The towers are profusely decorated. Over the main doorway there is a statue of Santa Isabel, located in a niche. She is shown with roses, which traditionally represented her. The ground plan of the church is the Greek cross. There is one central cupola and four minor cupolas. The ceiling is decorated profusely with gold. The main retable is one of the most beautiful in the city and was created between 1750 and 1760 by Jose Ramirez de Arellano. It is polychromed and used jasper, marble, and stucco painted with gold.