Europe,  Spain


From Nuevalos and the Stone monastery, we continued our journey east through Aragon, heading ultimately for Barcelona. Our next stop was the interesting and lively city of Zaragoza. It name derives from that of the founder of the Roman city that once stood here: Caesaraugusta. The Romans established their city here in the 14th century BC, along the banks of the great Ebro River and the city boasts a large number of historical sites from the Roman, Islamic and Christian eras.

Catedral-Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar

We headed initially for the main square, the vast and impressive Plaza del Pilar, and stepped inside the imposing Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar.

Zaragoza Catedral-Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar
The Catedral-Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar in Zaragoza dominates the centre of the city with its many tiled domes and spires

Outside, four towering spires define the corners of the building, between which sit a huge central dome and ten smaller domes, their vibrant blue, green, white and yellow tiles providing a striking contrast to the smooth stone below. Inside, it is cavernous and completely over the top, with elaborate painted ceilings and plenty of ornate baroque detailing. Apologies for the lack of photos, but none were allowed inside.

Zaragoza Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar
The enormous Plaza del Pilar with the Town Hall and the Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar on the right

The story behind its existence is that on 2 January in the year 40AD, the Virgin Mary apparently appeared to Santiago (St. James), one of the original twelve apostles who, after Jesus’s death and resurrection, travelled to Spain to preach. She appeared before him atop a pillar, surrounded by angels and assured him that eventually the people would be converted to Christianity and their faith would be as strong as the pillar on which she stood. She gave him the pillar and a wooden symbol of herself and instructed him to build a Chapel there. Since then the pillar has had ever more elaborate chapels built around it, culminating in the enormous Basilica that stands here today. All that you can see of the pillar today is a tiny part of it, surrounded by an oval-shaped gold frame. People queue up to touch it or kiss it or just kneel before it   What incredible devotion.

Once we had visited the Basilica, we crossed the nearby stone bridge over the River Ebro, from where you get the best views of the Basilica’s many domes and spires.

Zaragoza cathedral Roman bridge Goya statue
The Roman bridge across the River Ebro in Zaragoza gives fine views of the Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar. At the end of the main square is a statue of Goya, who was born in Aragon

La Seo

At the eastern end of the Plaza del Pilar is La Seo (the Cathedral of the Saviour), which stands on the site of the old Islamic mosque and before that the Roman forum. It has an interesting mix of architectural styles, including Romanesque, Baroque, Neo-Classical, Mudéjar and Gothic. One of its most striking and beautiful features is its Mudéjar-style wall of dark brickwork and colourful ceramic tiles in wonderful geometric patterns.

Zaragoza La Seo Cathedral of the Saviour
The beautiful Mudéjar facade and tower of La Seo in Zaragoza

Museo Origami

After that we walked through the town to seek out the Origami Museum, which sounded really interesting. Unfortunately for us it was closed for a few days whilst they changed over the exhibition, but from the video showing in the reception, it looked great.

Origami Museum Website

Goya Museum

Our final visit was to the Goya Museum. Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746–1828) is regarded as the most important Spanish artist of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. We have heard his name so often on our travels around Spain and we wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Goya was born in Aragon and this museum holds a range of his work, including a significant series of prints. We probably didn’t give it the time and attention it deserved as we were all really tired at this point and ready to head back to the caravan. But the museum makes an interesting introduction to Goya and frames his work within the styles and influences of the time with paintings by artists who came before and after him.

Goya Museum Website


All in all, we had found Zaragoza to be a very pleasant, clean and attractive city. Apart from the graffiti. I still can’t get used to the amount of graffiti that there is here in Spain. It covers everything from walls, doors and benches to lampposts and bins. Some people seem to try to prevent their shop front or garage doors from being targeted by having their own graffiti artwork painted and in general these don’t seem to be daubed with other slogans or words. We chatted to an artist who was doing just this, painting the wall of his friend’s shop. He was from Zaragoza but had been living in Canada and was enjoying the Spanish spring weather as he worked. To me it seems to make areas feel much rougher than they really are and often spoils beautiful monuments or public spaces. Despite all the time we have spent in Spain it still dismays me to see it.

Zaragoza graffiti
Art or vandalism? Graffiti is endemic in Spain and it covers virtually every wall, doorway, lamppost and bin leaving virtually no public space free from its clutches


Our intention had been to spend longer in the area and explore the countryside around the city, but unfortunately Zaragoza’s city-run campsite was possibly the worst we have stayed on during our 5 months in Spain. Not only was it dirty and unkempt with dog poo everywhere, but it felt like we were pitched in a car park and we didn’t feel particularly safe. So the following morning we packed up and headed off towards Barcelona and our last few nights in Spain.


  • Liz Wetherby

    Sarah, Is this where Henry VIII’s first wife, Katherine, came from? The cathedral is beautiful (I can’t even imagine what the inside looks like) and I love the story of Mary and the Apostle John. The tile work of La Seo is just mind-boggling. Such painstaking, creative craftsmanship! It’s too bad the campsite was run so poorly, I hope that’s the only disappointing one you have to experience. I really look forward to each new post and thank you for the time and your unique presentation of each new adventure. It feels like we’re there with you! 🙂

    • Sarah

      Thank you Liz – it is always so encouraging to receive your comments too!
      Yes, this is the Aragon of Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife, although she was apparently born in Madrid. Her father, Ferdinand, was king of Aragon. Ferdinand and Isabella were quite a couple and their names have come up all the time as we have travelled around Spain.
      I agree with you about the craftsmanship shown in the moorish buildings and architecture – it is so detailed and creative.
      Only one more post to come from Spain as we are now in Italy, with a whole host of new delights to enjoy. Thanks again for reading and commenting.
      Sarah xxx