Capital of the northeastern region of Aragón, Zaragoza is situated on the Ebro River. A primary railway junction between Barcelona and Madrid, Zaragoza was originally a crossing point on a key waterway. Zaragoza was the capital of the kingdom of Aragón in the twelfth to fifteenth centuries.
The site of an ancient Celtiberian settlement, the area was taken by the Romans in the first century BC and colonized under Emperor Augustus. It was named Ceaseraugusta from which the modern name derives, via the Arabic Saraqustah. It developed into a prosperous colony with more than 25,000 inhabitants. One of the first Spanish towns to be Christianized, it was here that the synod of the Christian Church was held in 380 AD.
In the fifth century Zaragoza was taken by the Visigoths and then by the Moors in 714. Charlemagne attempted to conquer the city in 778 but was forced to withdraw to cope with a domestic rebellion. During the ninth to eleventh century Zaragoza was the centre of an independent dynasty, the Beni Kasim, a Visigoth family independent of both Moors and Franks. The Almoravids captured the city in 1110, but 8 years later it was taken by King Alfonso I of Aragón. Zaragoza entered a long period of peace and prosperity at the heart of the kingdom of Aragón, founded in 1035. Marriage ties united Aragón with Barcelona in 1137 and then in 1479 Ferdinand of Aragón married Isabella of Castille and León. United under these Catholic Monarchs, the kingdom was strong enough to recapture the Moorish holdings.
Zaragoza played a memorable role in the Peninsular War (1808–13). To the surprise of the French, the citizens of Zaragoza refused to concede. In 1808 Jorge Ibort, a peasant leader, rallied the citizens into an organized resistance. Under the command of the Aragónese general and nobleman, José de Rebolledo Palafox y Melci, they held out until about 50,000 inhabitants had died. A legendary figure emerged from the struggle. Maria Augustín was immortalized as ‘The Maid of Saragossa’ in Byron’s poem Childe Harold. The French eventually captured the city in 1809.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Zaragoza’s economy benefited from the introduction of sugar refining. Out of industrialization came militant trade unionism. In 1933 a revolutionary committee of workers began a general strike that lasted 57 days. Even so, at the beginning of the Civil War the Nationalist attack took the city by surprise and the unions had no time to organize themselves. The city fell to the Nationalists in 1936.
Zaragoza’s major industries include engineering, chemicals, flour, sugar refining and wine and paper production. The original site of Zaragoza is found to the east of the centre on the banks of the Ebro River. Most of the industry is situated in the surrounding outskirts.
The city is accessible by air, rail and road.
Places of Interest
In the old town can be found the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, a marble pillar erected in the memory of the sighting of the Virgin Mary by St John. The pillar is surrounded by a baroque edifice containing a chapel, the Capilla Santa, upon which Goya worked. An Aragónese native, Goya was born in the small hamlet of Fuendetodos, just south of Zaragoza. The Copulo was painted by the Sevillian artist Diego Velázquez.
To the west of the old town is the Aljafería palace. An example of Moorish architecture, it was built in the mid-eleventh century at the height of the Beni Kasim reign. It has been a palace of Berber Sheikhs, the residence of the kings of Aragón, the seat of the Inquisition between 1485–1759 and, from 1987, the Aragónese cortes (parliament).