February 17, 2013

Cathedrals, Tapas, and a Moorish Palace

After fabulous food and cooking classes in Donostia (San Sebastián), it was time to continue our road trip. Leaving Basque Country we headed east towards Zaragoza. Again the countryside changed. We left behind the ocean and lush green hills. The terrain became more rugged and the trees were alight with bright fall colors.
Driving into the region of Navarra.
The sun was low in the sky as we approached Zaragoza. After a few wrong turns we were at our hotel on Plaza Nuestra Señora del Pilar. We checked into our room in the quirky, Hotel Las Torres. My favorite part of our room, aside from the balcony with the fabulous view of the cathedral, were the words "Buenos Noches" and fluffy black sheep painted on the wall.

Basilica Nuestra Señora del Pilar
The cathedral, Basilica Nuestra Señora del Pilar, is hard to describe in words. The church is topped with multiple spires and domes and blue, yellow, and white tiles. After walking around the plaza and admiring the exterior of the building, we went inside. The interior is cavernous with tall ceilings and ornate chapels. (Out of respect for those who came to worship, I did not take photographs inside the cathedral.)

Punte de Pierdra spanning the River Ebro
with the cathedral in the background.
But the cathedral was just one of many architecturally interesting structures within walking distance of our hotel. On the plaza there were several municipal buildings, La Seo Cathedral, and a medieval bridge (Puente de Pierdra) only a few blocks away. The plaza became even more magnificent after dark when bright lights illuminated the cathedral and other buildings contrasting them against the dark sky.

The cathedral and plaza illuminated at night.
After admiring the cathedral and surrounding sights, we headed off into the maze of streets of the old neighborhood of the city. The streets were filled with people of all ages - locals, tourists, and pilgrims visiting the cathedrals. We joined the others in the city's many tapas bars getting one bite and a small glass of wine at each place before moving on to the place.

Aljafería Palace
Before leaving the city the next month we visited Aljafería, an Islamic palace built in the 11th century when the Moors ruled this area of the Iberian peninsula. From the outside, the palace looked like a typical medieval fortification with a moat, high stone walls, and towers. However, inside it was different from anything I'd seen before.

The courtyard and garden at Aljafería Palace.
In the center of the palace there was a tranquil courtyard with orange trees and fountains. The adjoining room was open to the garden and had ornately carved arches. Going further into the palace many of the doorways were decorated with elaborate carvings and were the keyhole shape typically associated with Islamic architecture. There were rooms with painted ceilings - dark blues and metallic golds. Some of these included designs of bundles of wheat painted for the Christian kings and queens of Aragon who took up residence in the Palacio de la Aljafería after reclaiming control of the city of Zaragoza from the Moors in the 12th century.

The room that opened to the garden and courtyard.
We wandered from room to room admiring the art that was incorporated into the building. There are many different rooms on three floors that are open to the public. Some areas of the palace are not open to visitors because this building is also home to the Parliament of the region of Aragon.

Windows in a stairwell in Aljafería Palace.
Soon it was time to leave Zaragoza and travel to the final stop on our road trip - Barcelona.

A room in the palace that was decorated by
Christian Kings and Queens of Aragon.


Roberta said...

Nice piece. Made me want to get on a plane and go there!

Jessica said...

@ Roberta - Thank you! That's why I write - to encourage others to explore the globe.

Rambling Tart said...

WOW!! That palace is breathtakingly amazing. :-) So much detail and beauty. Love it. :-)