A little known Spanish jewel
You will be charmed when discovering Zaragoza. Its millenary history is amazing,
There was a time when the Corona de Aragon (Aragon Crown), which capital was Zaragoza, dominated the whole Mediterranean Sea and many territories in France and Italy, apart from today's Spanish autonomies of Valencia, Balearic Islands.
Aragon does not have good roads or railway communications with France; they are still fighting to get a train connexion with Toulouse, which was interrupted several decades ago. That is bad for their economy and the reason why the few tourists who visit this town will be more than welcome.
Zaragoza was called in the Celt and Iberian times “Salduba” and was founded on the banks of the Ebro River which was navigable until the Mediterranean Sea in the Romans times, but today owing to the many dams, is not possible anymore. Romans came and gave the name of Caesar Augusta, which was shortened to present Zaragoza, pronounced by some like “Saragossa”. Moors invaded it until our King Alfonso I El Batallador expelled them forever in the XII century.
Zaragoza is, by population, the fifth city in Spain after Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Sevilla. One of its heroes is the Spanish Jeanne D’Arc: Agustina de Aragon, who has a square named after her. She was so brave that started fighting against the Napoleonic troops that invaded our country from 1808 until we completely expel them back to the other side of the Pyrenees in 1814. But unlike Jeanne D’Arc, she lived happily and died when she was very old.
Zaragoza is famous for its MUDEJAR style, a unique and impressive architecture in the world, which is a mixture of Mauritanian and Spanish styles combined. Many of its buildings observe this style: the old cathedral, several churches, our arena for bullfighting, the Main Post Office, etc.
Aragon’s people even have a local language, called Habla, mostly spoken in the north, around the beautiful town of Jaca, in the Pyrenees Mountains.
"Basilica del Pilar"
While in Zaragoza (the lovely capital of Aragon situated in the banks of the river Ebro, the longest in Spain), you should visit one of the holiest places in Spain: the Basilica del Pilar, a place for pilgrims, like Fatima in Portugal or Lourdes in France. According to the legend, Saint James, the Apostle of Jesus, came to Spain and preached Christianity. Virgin Mary appeared and requested him to erect a Basilica in Caesar Augusta (Zaragoza). First it was a simple temple and in 1685 it was rebuilt in its present form. Inside you will admire frescoes by Francisco de Goya and other artists, a huge altar of alabaster from the XVI century and many evidences of miracles occurred in that Basilica, such as the well known Milagro de Calanda (Calanda Miracle), when a young man from the Teruel village of Calanda, whom had just being amputated his leg, was staying in his bed when appeared the Virgin Mary together with two Angels; she talked to him and suddenly the leg started to grow again.
For restaurants my first choice is the “Club Nautico”, just in front of the “Pilarica”, by the River Ebro, name that derives from Ibero, the first Spanish ethno that together with the Celts formed “Celtiberia” in our Peninsula, the present Spain and also Portugal, which formed a single country until the Portuguese preferred to get definite independence from Spain in 1640. This Club Nautico has also an Officers Club in the basement, where from time to time gather the Generals and high Officials of the Spanish Army.
You have to try the “ternasco” which is a delicious entrecote. Aragon fruits are dried pears, peaches, cherries, etc., covered with chocolate. They are delicious and cheap; just for 3 or 4 euros you will be given a 300 grams bag! And try Carinena wine, very similar to the famous Rioja wine.
You have several more restaurants in the Plaza de la Pilarica. In the corner with the street Jaime I there is a self service (eat as much as you can), inexpensive, which offers excellent food.
"Aljaferia and Jaca"
The Aljaferia was a fortress/ palace consisting on a walled quadrilateral architecture bordered by 12 cylindrical tours plus a rectangular Homage Tower. In its south eastern side was the mihrab, with a caliph horseshoe form. It was erected in the XI century during our historical period of the “Taifa Kingdoms” by the muslim kings of Zaragoza. In those time it must have been one of the most sumptuous buildings in Europe. When Zaragoza was re-conquered by our King Alfonso I El Batallador, it was used by him as residence and enlarged with adjacent buildings. Our Catholic Kings (Isabel of Castilla and Fernando of Aragon) used it as the Royal residence, then it became a jail in Inquisition times, and during one of our frequent civil wars in the XIX century the chapel was destroyed. It was also a kind of military quarters. Today is the seat of the Junta de Aragon Government. They accept tourists with a determinate schedule; inside there are lovely gardens and richly ornamented Arab rooms.
Jaca is the gem of the Pyrenees Mountains. It is situated in the North of Zaragoza, at about 2 hours by bus, near the border with France. It is a well known ski resort and was candidate to organize the Winter Olympic games of 1994, but we lose (The winner was Lilihammer).
Jaca was the old capital of Aragon before Zaragoza, and its cathedral was erected in the XI century.
The Pyrenees Mountains of Aragon are the most beautiful and spectacular in Spain and France. In the Aragonese Pyrenees lays the highest peak (3404 metres) called Aneto in Spain and Nethou in France.
One of the Camino de Santiago (Saint James pilgrimage) starts in Somport, north of Jaca, where we have a shelter for pilgrims. Then the Camino pass near the cradle of the Kingdom of Aragon: the startling monastery of San Juan de la Pena (rock in English), which is a must for every pilgrim and tourist alike and, according to the legend, it contained in the past the Holy Grial, which is now in Valencia Cathedral.