The Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, the Cathedral of La Seo, the Aljafería Palace… Zaragoza, just like other cities, has a list of must-see places that travellers shouldn’t miss. But as well as these famous landmarks, numerous museums and other places to visit, this provincial capital on the banks of the river Ebro has several hidden corners that, being less well-known, are real treasures waiting to be discovered by visitors. Here are just some of the many hidden gems concealed within the city:
* ARCO DEL DEÁN (DEAN’S ARCH)
Located in a tiny side street at the back of the cathedral, this archway is every bit as magnificent as some of the cathedral’s more obvious features. Approaching the archway, you will find yourself opposite a walkway built as long ago as the 13th century, used as a passageway to connect the La Seo building with the Dean’s (or Prior’s) House. It was restored in the 16th century, with the addition of a beautiful viewing point through a series of arched windows built in Plateresque-Mudejar style. This architectural marvel will take you back to centuries gone by.
* REAL MAESTRANZA DE CABALLERÍA (ROYAL CAVALRY ARMOURY)
Passing beneath the beautiful Arco del Deán and continuing along Calle Pabostria right to the end, you’ll come to a true Renaissance-style Aragonese mansion. This building, now known as the Real Maestranza de Caballería (Royal Cavalry Armoury) because it houses this Zaragozan organisation, was originally the mansion of Miguel Donlope, a convert and wealthy lawyer who commissioned the building in the early 16th century. Its facade is a good example of this type of building, with its rounded arch at the entrance and attractive wooden eaves. The interior is also striking, with its eye-catching wooden dome above the stairwell, attractive plaster decorations, and coffered ceilings in the noble rooms. It is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays between 11:00 and 14:00.
Facade of the Real Maestranza, seen from Calle Pabostria.
* LA LONJA
Often overlooked, this building is located in the centre of the Plaza del Pilar, next to the town hall and just a few steps away from La Seo. Although many visitors stop to admire the architectural lines of its exterior, few of them pass through its doors to discover the hidden gem that the building conceals. This beautiful Renaissance-style civil building, built in the 16th century, now hosts different temporary exhibitions (always free) throughout the year. However, they don’t impinge on the view of its magnificent stellar-vaulted roof.
Roof of La Lonja.
* PATIO DE LA INFANTA (THE INFANTA’S COURTYARD)
The Zaporta family’s mansion was originally located in the central street of Calle San Jorge, where it stood for over 300 years. However, in the late 19th century, the building was in such poor condition that the decision was taken to demolish it. Fortunately, the Patio de la Infanta — the interior courtyard of the building — was salvaged from the ruins and, having been dismantled piece by piece, was acquired by a French antique dealer. Temporarily exiled on French soil, in 1957 this exquisite piece of Renaissance art was returned to Zaragoza where it found a new home: the headquarters of the bank Ibercaja (at 16 Calle San Ignacio de Loyola). It remains there to this day, hosting temporary exhibitions, conferences and other cultural events.
View of the Patio de la Infanta.
* PALACIO LARRINAGA
In common with many other European cities, in the early 20th century large numbers of modernist buildings began to appear in Zaragoza. Unfortunately, many of these buildings disappeared several decades ago, having fallen victim to property speculation and poor decision-making on the part of the authorities. Of those buildings that managed to escape the dreaded wrecking ball, the Palacio de Larrinaga (123 Calle Miguel Servet) is of particular note. It was built in the early 20th century, having been commissioned by the Basque shipowner, Manuel Larrinaga. The palace is decorated with numerous symbols alluding to its owner’s livelihood, and has richly decorated rooms that visitors can see on one of the guided tours that take place every Tuesday between 09:30 and 11:00.
* MUSEO DE LA TORRE NUEVA (MUSEUM OF THE LEANING TOWER OF ZARAGOZA)
Until the late 19th century, an enormous Mudejar tower standing over 80 metres tall loomed above Zaragoza’s historic centre. It was one of the city’s most visible landmarks, located in what is now Plaza de San Felipe, just five minutes away from Plaza del Pilar. The Torre Nueva (or ‘New Tower’), as it was known at the time, began to lean shortly after it was built in the early 16th century. Although this tilt did not appear to be dangerous, in 1892 the authorities took the decision to tear it down. As a memento of the tower that so captivated visitors to the city, it is now possible to discover its secrets at the museum dedicated to its memory. The museum is housed in the former wine cellar of Montal, a character-filled establishment that is also located in Plaza San Felipe. The museum includes a large collection of prints, photographs, plans and other documents that reveal the past and the hidden story of this magnificent building, now sadly disappeared. It also houses a real gem: the machinery of the tower’s clock, salvaged from the remains of the tower.
Trompe l’oeil painting of the Leaning Tower of Zaragoza, in a street close to the site of the former tower.