Zaragoza enjoys an outstanding historic and artistic heritage thanks to the different cultures and civilisations that left their mark on the city, including Iberians, Romans, Christians, Jews and Muslims. It was the latter who bequeathed to the city one of its most beautiful and breathtaking monuments: the Aljafería, an 11th-century fortress that today sits in the heart of the city centre.
In the early eighth century, the Muslim invasion swept across the Iberian peninsula, and what had until then been Caesaraugusta (the Roman Zaragoza, which had already been converted to Christianity), became known as Saraqusta under Muslim control. Until the Christian reconquest four centuries later, Saraqusta– also called Medina Albaida, or “white city”– experienced periods of great political and cultural prosperity and even became the capital of the Upper March of Al-Andalus and of one of the most important taifas, or independent principalities. This prosperity gave rise to one of Zaragoza’s most beautiful, breathtaking monuments, which today is a mecca for tourists visiting the city on the banks of the Ebro.
The oldest part of the monument, which has been declared a World Heritage Site, dates from the ninth century. The “Troubadour’s Tower”, a rectangular enclosure that inspired Verdi’s famous opera Il trovatore, was built at that time and has been the focal point of intriguing legends. For centuries, many claimed to have seen a mysterious beautiful lady dressed in white in the tower, supposedly the ghost of a maiden who would appear to presage the death of some unfortunate soul. In addition to the Troubadour’s Tower and its worrying ghost, the Aljafería’s other and much bigger area dates from the 11th century. This part of the building, the Islamic palace, was commissioned by Abu Jafar Ahmad ibn Al-Muqtadir and encompasses the ramparts and its semi-circular towers, as well as the beautifully decorated mihrab, or chapel, topped with a horseshoe arch and located inside the building.
As time went by, the building underwent several additions and changes, the original Islamic architecture giving way to a ride range of artistic styles. For example, the beautiful Mudejar palace was added by Peter IV after the reconquest of the city. Bigger still was the refurbishment carried out in the 15th century by the Catholic Monarchs, who used the fortress’ rooms as a royal palace. Other gorgeous spaces waiting to be discovered include the San Martín and Santa Isabel courtyards and the Golden Hall.
The Aljafería also took on other functions, such as housing the Holy Chalice, which today can be found in the Cathedral of Valencia and which some say might be the very chalice used by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper, the Holy Grail. From 1485, the Aljafería was the location of the prisons used by the Spanish Inquisition and, centuries later, served as military barracks, being one of the main scenes of the sieges of Zaragoza during the Peninsular War against Napoleon’s troops. Currently, part of the fortress houses the Aragonese Regional Parliament, while the rest of the building is open to visitors. This is without doubt a real historic and artistic gem that can’t be missed during a trip to Zaragoza.
Address: Calle de los Diputados
Bus routes: 34, 36 and the tourist bus (Calle Diputados), 21, 32, 33, 51 and 52 (Avenida de Madrid-Aljafería stop).
- April to October: every day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 4.30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Guided tours at 10.30 a.m., 11.30 a.m., 12.30 p.m., 4.30 p.m., 5.30 p.m. and 6.30 p.m.
- November to March: from Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Guided tours at 10.30 a.m., 11.30 a.m., 12.30 p.m., 4.30 p.m. and 5.30 p.m.
On some Thursdays and Fridays the fortress is closed to visitors to allow for sessions of the Aragonese Regional Parliament.
Entrance fee: Adults: 5 euros. Students and adults aged over 65: 1 euro. Children aged between 0 and 12: free. Entry is free on Sundays.