The former Iberian Salduba, Roman Caesaraugusta and Arab Sarakosta has one of its nerve centres in the Plaza del Pilar. Here, on the banks of the River Ebro, stands one of the greatest centres of the Marian cult in Spain. The Baroque structure of the Basilica of Nuestra Señora del Pilar stands above a modern square. Outside, its four towers and a huge coloured roof stand out. Inside, the Great Reredos, made in alabaster; the image of the venerated Viren del Pilar, designed by Ventura Rodríguez; and the paintings by Francisco de Goya, made in the domes, attract the attention. The Pilar Museum preserves the Virgin's different crowns and mantles, which are changed nearly every day. A very special one is the one made with flowers on the day of the patron of Zaragoza, 12 October, the Spanish national day.
This example of Aragonese Baroque is found between the Roman walls, the City Hall and the Merchants' Exchange . The exchange is one of the most important 16th-century civil buildings in Aragon, where you can appreciate slim pillasters and groined vaults. As well as its functions as a museum, it houses remains of the Roman forum. Beside it stands the slim tower of La Seo, the Cathedral of San Salvador. Built on the site of the Great Mosque, the Muro de la Parroquieta is one of the high points of Zaragoza Mudejar. Inside, a 16th-century reredos is the key point..
In these surroundings you will also find the Dean's Arch and the Armijo Palace, seat of the "Justicia de Aragón", an institution that has pioneered the protection of citizen's rights since the Middle Ages. It is also worth visiting Renaissance palaces like that of the Pardos, today the Camón Aznar museum, and that of Monternuzo, home of the Newspaper Archive and Municipal Archive; as well as those of Donlope and the Marquises of Huarte. In the Calle Mayor you should also visit the church of La Magdalena, whose Mudejar tower (16th C.) is one of the city's most representative features.
Another interesting area is the one that lies around the Roman walls. Beside one of the bridges that cross the Ebro, you will find the Zuda Tower, a former Arab palace. At this point you can contrast it with the Modernist architecture of the nearby Central Market. The tour can continue in the museum dedicated to the Aragonese sculptor Pablo Gargallo, the Fortea Tower and the church of San Pablo.
To take the pulse of this great city go towards the Aljafería along the Calle Conde de Aranda, which runs parallel to the Ebro. Here you will discover Zaragoza's modernist architecture, exemplified by the Casa Molins and the Mercantil Casino. And, when you have almost reached your goal, there is the monument to Agustina de Aragón, by Mariano Benlliure, set at one of the key points of the defence of Zaragoza during the War of Independence. The Aljafería palace, now the seat of the Aragonese Cortes (Parliament) was built by the Arabs in the 11th century as a place for recreation and it is considered as an artistic step between the Mosque at Córdoba and the Alhambra in Granada.
Great frenchified avenues lead you to the Paseo de la Independencia and the Plaza de Aragón. In this area you can visit the Basilica of Santa Engracia, the Post Office, the Courtyard of the Infanta and the Palaeontology museumIn a metres you will have the opportunity to see beautiful examples of the Renaissance and Neomudejar styles, paintings by Goya and an interesting museum collection in the Former Medicine and Science faculty respectively.
A few streets away is the Plaza de los Sitios, which houses an interesting Modernist monument; and the Museum of Archaeology and Fine Arts, where you can also get to know other works by Goya.
Tours of Zaragoza
From the Aragonese capital you can tour the whole province of Zaragoza using different routes. To the north of the city, Romanesque churches, medieval castles and palatial country houses make up the Five Towns route, although actually there are rather more of them than that. The outstanding ones are Ejea de los Caballeros, Casiliscar, Uncastillo and Sos del Rey Católico. Here, where Fernando el Católico (Ferdinand the Catholic) was born, there is also an excellent Parador de Turismo to add to its attractions.
To the west lies the county of Moncayo and the Natural Park with the same name. Among oaks and beeches you will find interesting places like Pedrola, Gallur and Borja. Tarazona, National Historic Site; and the Monastery of Veruela, a National Monument, complete the key points on this route, where you can visit some good examples of Aragonese Mudejar. Also important are the towns which sprang up around the Río Jalón, a county whose most important city is Calatayud. Its five Arab castles and Goya paintings are some of the treasures it guards. Meanwhile, Alhama de Aragón offers you the excellent facilities of the Monasterio de Piedra, a Cistercian monastery converted into a hotel, and many spas. A Wine Museum of the Calatayud Denomination of Origin is another possibility in this area.
To the south of Zaragoza lies another wine county, Cariñena, which also has its own denomination of origin. Fuendetodos, the village where Francisco de Goya was born, awaits you among these Zaragozan vineyards. Here you can visit his house and the Museum of EngravingA few kilometres away you reach Daroca, one of the most important monumental sites in the region.
In all these places you will have the opportunity to try Zaragozan cuisine, with its great simplicity and excellent raw materials. Borage, typical of the Ebro Valley, is the main feature of many dishes, as are sweet onions. Roast lamb can be very well accompanied with breadcrumbs stewed with grapes. Cold meats and cheese must leave room for desserts, where chocolate-covered crystallised fruits and a wide range of rural recipes centred on "bizcocho" and "torta" cakes and "roscon" pastries, are in charge.