THIS WEEKEND
Zaragoza

Zaragoza's origins date back to the Iberian settlement of Salduba, but it is to the Roman Caesar Augustus, and Islamic Sarakosta, that it owes both its name and the still easily recognizable rectangular perimeter of its old town, bordered by the lower and upper sections of Calle Coso, Avenida de Cesar Augusto and the River Ebro. The wealth of the city's historical legacy is a nightmare for present-day builders, since a hole can't be dug in the ground of this area or its surroundings without uncovering important archaeological remains, as happened recently with the discovery of the ancient Roman Theatre, now being restored, in Calle Vernica, behind Teatro Principal.
Zaragoza has always benefited from a strategic location, a fact as true as ever in our time, being in the middle of a crossroads which traverses Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao and Valencia. The result is a dynamic and modern town that is continuously growing, yet still having mostly walkable distances, with a legacy of splendid buildings and monuments inherited from all the cultures that have contributed to its development. For convenience, Zaragoza can be divided into three areas of interest: the historic centre, the Ensanche and boulevards, and the University-Delicias area.

What to see:

Historic centre
This area is traditionally the one of greatest interest for visitors since most of the important ancient monuments and buildings are found here. It includes the old town proper, with its natural extensions to the East, Barrio de la Magdalena to the West, Predicadores (also known as San Pablo or barrio del Gancho), plus the area delineated by Avenida Cesar Augusto and Paseo de Mara Agustn (where Misericordia bullring stands) with its nearby flea market and the Pignatelli Building, an eighteenth-century hospital containing a church with gilt domes that now houses the Diputacin General de Aragn (regional government).
On the western end of this area is Aljafera Palace, a castle surrounded by a moat and gardens, and the most important relic of Zaragoza's Islamic period and today the parliament of Aragn. In Predicadores we should mention San Pablo Church, while La Magdalena Church in the neighbourhood of the same name has in its tower one of the finest examples of the Aragonese variety of the mudejar style (involving brick and coloured tile decoration due to Moorish artisans who stayed long after the Christian conquest). It is in the old town proper, however, where we find the greatest number of important monuments and buildings, beginning with the huge Plaza del Pilar, where the famous and grandiose basilica stands, along with the Lonja Palace, Seo Cathedral, the Roman Forum Museum and, at the opposite end of the square, San Juan de los Panetes Church with its leaning tower, the mudejar tower of La Zuda and the remains of the Roman wall. Pleasant as it may be to wander among the old town's streets, two parallel ones which cut across it truly make a useful reference point: Don Jaime I, passing near the squares of Santa Marta, Santa Cruz and San Pedro Nolasco, and leading to the Teatro Principal; and Alfonso I, cleared for its view of the Pilar Basilica and from which one can reach San Felipe Square.
This is a very lively area, full of shops of every kind, narrow streets, squares and pleasant corners, with many tapas bars with tables outside and a busy nightlife.

Ensanche and boulevards
This is a large area characterized by the main avenues and boulevards opened in the nineteenth century, with their modern extensions and surroundings. It includes Zona Centro, surrounding the twin squares of Aragn and Paraso, where the beautiful neo-mudejar building of the old School of Medicine and Science stands. Here is where Gran Va starts, an important market and leisure avenue which continues in Fernando el Catlico, which leads to San Francisco square and its surroundings, through outdoor cafes, bingo halls and bars all the way to Primo de Rivera Park (known as "parque grande"), the old Feria de Muestras and Romareda Stadium, close to the flea market and Zaragoza Auditorium.
Paseo de la Independencia, starting from Plaza de Espaa and flanked by large arches, is the town's main promenade, with its cinemas and shops. The nearby Plaza de Salamero is interesting and enjoying renewed popularity, and across the Paseo, Plaza de los Sitios has a monument commemorating Napoleon's two sieges on Zaragoza and the Archaeological Museum.
Another important boulevard also stems from Plaza Paraso, Paseo de Sagasta, which is the axis of a busy commercial area with many shops, bars cafes and restaurants. Calle Moncasi and its surroundings amass huge numbers of the very young on weekends. More sparsely populated and with a rather more adult appeal, there are also many bars and restaurants on and around Bolonia, Camino de las Torres, Avenida Tenor Fleta and Jose Pellicer. On reaching Pignatelli Park, Sagasta becomes Paseo de Cuellar, which leads to the Venecia pine groves, the amusement park and the neighbourhoods of Torrero and La Paz. In the area between the start of Sagasta and Paseo de la Constitucin is the traditionally more expensive, "posh" part of town, Len XIII, also abundant in pubs, restaurants and shops.

University-Delicias
Leaving Plaza de San Francisco with its arcades, distinguished shops, outdoor cafes, pubs and restaurants, one reaches the University campus and an area next to it around Calle Corona de Aragn and Calle Toms Bretn, also with many bars, bookshops and other shops. Crossing Ciudad Jardn, a residential area with low houses, is the popular neighbourhood of Delicias, with the park and the interesting pedestrian street of the same name, an area perhaps without obvious or spectacular attractions but with quite a personality if one has the time to get to know it.

Where to eat:

Gayarre
The restaurant is located in a pretty villa surrounded by lovely gardens and pine trees. The decor consists of statues, antique clocks, golden-framed mirrors, portraits and scenes in oil paint. As for the food, chef Miguel Angel Revuelto will impress you with his own personal creations that include king prawn maraa with lentils and a salad of wild vegetables, fillets of spiced hake with cream of spring onion sauce and a mousse flavoured with wild berry liqueur and anis. The wine list has an excellent selection of fine Aragonese wines.

Churrasco
A place so chic few can compare. It's divided in two separate spaces, bar and restaurant, and the wood and stone decor makes it warm and cosy. The bar is visited by the town's "beautiful people" who enjoy their tasty tapas. The dinning-room is also usually full because of the popularity of their elaborate dishes: partridge salad with baby eels, sea-bass baked in a crust of salt, kid fried with garlic, and for dessert, cheese ice-cream. They advise washing these down with a bottle of Somontano or any other local wine.

La Republicana
It's worth paying the higher than normal prices charged here because the tapas produced in this kitchen are delicious works of art. You can choose from old favorites like red peppers stuffed with meat and patatas con mojo (potatoes with spicy sauce Canary Island style) or opt for something more exotic, like courgette and white fish pie, curried chicken with pineapple or blue cheese and caramelized onion toasties. It's an old-fashioned cafe decorated with an eclectic mixture of Hispanic retro knick-knacks, photos and a piano.


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