Zaragoza’s history stretches back to the Iberian settlement Salduba, and the ground it rests on contains layer after layer of remains from its residents: Romans, Moors, and Christians. Today the ground is so dense with artifacts that builders complain; every hole dug reveals important archaeological remains, like the ancient Roman theater being restored off Calle Veronica.
The reason for such dense history lies in Zaragoza’s strategic placement: at the center of an important crossroads that stretches to Bilbao, Valencia, Barcelona, and Madrid. With so many roads, Zaragoza has a dynamism rarely matched; yet the town is still eminently walkable, a pedestrian’s paradise of gorgeous buildings and ancient and newer monuments from every era in its history. Zaragoza is made up of three basic regions: the historic center, the University-Delicias section, and the Ensanche and the boulevards.
In the historic center of Zaragoza, you’ll find most of the important monuments from Roman times. This section is easily recognized; it’s boundaried by the upper and lower sections of the Calle Coso, and by the River Ebro and Avenida de Cesar Agosto. Here you’ll find the Barrio de la Magdalena, the Barrio del Gancho or Predicadores, and the Misericordia Bullring. A flea market is very close by, as is the old hospital, the Pignatelli Building. This building now houses the regional overnment.
To the west of the historic center is Aljaferia Palace, a castle out of fairy tales with gardens and a moat dating to Moorish rule. Today Aragon’s parliament resides here. In the Barrio del Gancho, you’ll find San Pablo Church, and in Barrio de la Magdalena is La Magdalena Church, with a tower done in mudejar style with bricks and colored tile. Tradition has it that the Virgin Mary herself ordered that St. James build a church here.
In the old town section bordered by the ancient Roman walls, you’ll find two millenia of buildings, from the Roman Forum Museum to the Seo Cathedral, the San Juan de los Panetes Church, La Zuda’s mudejar tower, and the Zaragoza Basilica. Rarely do you find so many centuries of history existing side by side. From this section, you can get to San Felipe Square, where you’ll find shops, tapas bars, restaurants, and nightclubs.
A pleasant stroll out of the old part of town will take you to the Ensanche and boulevards section, dating only to the nineteenth century, but with the beautiful twin squares of Aragon and Paraiso, and a neo-mudejar building housing the old School of Medicine and Science. The Gran Via strts here, and leads you through shops and all kinds of leisure activites, ending at San Francisco Square, near the flea market and the Zaragoza Auditorium.
Starting from the Plaza de Espana, you can take the Paseo de la Indepencia through shops and cinemas to the Plaza de los Sitios and the Archaeological Museum.
What to Do
Zaragoza is host to 40,000 students at its university, and thus is able to support a huge number of bars, restaurants, and nightclubs; better yet, they’re mostly reasonably priced.
For a unique dinner experience, try La Rinconada de Lorenzo; wild game and grocery standards exist on the same plate. Fried rabbit with snails is one house specialty, or you can try the wild boar and veal dish, or one of a dozen fresh fish entrees.
For something a little less pricey, consider the Risko Mar, nearby El Corte Ingles and dozens of shops and boutiques. Fish, pork, veal, beef, lamb, and tons of seafood make up their varied menu.
Where to Stay
One of the best hotels in town is the Boston, named for the city in Massachusetts. It’s also the tallest and most modern building in Zaragoza. You’ll find spacious, well-equipped rooms, an onsite restaurant, bar, gym, and babysitting services. And though the hotel is ultramodern, it’s only a fifteen-minute walk from Zaragoza’s medieval neighborhoods.
For a less-expensive stay, try the Hotel Gran Via, predictably on the Paseo Gran Via near the Church of Santa Engracia. It’s not strong on atmosphere, but it’s comfortable and tidy, and if you’re spending most of your time outside of the hotels, it’s a great value.