Zaragoza :: Spain’s Crossroads
Zaragoza is a true crossroads city on the banks of Spain's longest river, the Ebro. Halfway between Madrid and Barcelona, and Bilbao and Valencia, Zaragoza is also Spain's oldest settlement, with origins dating from 24 BC. After the founding Celtiberian settlement, the Romans, Muslims and Christians dominated the scene through the subsequent centuries. The crossroads became a melting pot, with the inevitable mix of cultures and architectural styles - Roman, Moorish, Renaissance, Baroque and Modernist - still visible throughout the city. This summer the 2008 International Expo, with a theme of "Water and Sustainable Development," will focus the World's attention on Zaragoza, Spain's fifth largest city.
Put On a Lisp
If you want to sound like a local, Zaragoza, as many Northern Spanish cities, is pronounced as if you have a lisp, as in thah-ra-GO-tha. Other examples: Barcelona is bar-thah-LO-na, Valencia is val-LEN-the-a, and Galicia is gal-LI-the-a. Start pronouncing the names like that and Anglos will think you are fey, but Spaniards will assume you are a native and leave you in the conversational dust if your Spanish is rusty. My Spanish is non-existent, so I pronounced it Saragossa and got along just fine.
The 2008 Expo - A Work in Progress
A November tour of the site of Zaragoza’s 2008 Expo leaves one wondering how it could possibly be ready for the June opening. A forest of cranes fills a skyline of buildings in various stages of completion, and concrete trucks and tractor trailers delivering construction supplies clog the muddy dirt roads. Currently, some buildings, such as the water drop shaped Water Tower, are easily identified, while others are not yet defined enough to name, mere skeletons, or just holes in the ground, as the 62 acre site along the Ebro River blossoms with architectural designs that planners insist will be finished on time.
Architects of Renown
And assuming they are finished, what futuristic buildings they will be! An impressive lineup of architects submitted designs to an international jury for the various exhibit buildings. Those who are assembled for the projects include: Juan Jose Arenas for the Third Millenium Bridge, Enrique de Teresa for the Water Tower, Fuensanta Nieto and Enrique Sobejano for the Congress Centre, Patxi Mangado for the Pavilion of Spain, Daniel and Alberto Mangado for the Pavilion of Arag?n and Zaha Hadid for the Bridge-Pavilion, a massive pavilion that will be the futuristic entry to the Expo. The sight of all these modern designs will be spectacular against a city skyline whose prominent feature previously was the Baroque multi-towered Bas?lica del Pilar.
The major distinction between Expo 2008 and previous Expos is that Zaragoza’s buildings are specifically designed for use after the closing, with contracts and leases already signed for the majority. Officials expect all will be spoken for before it opens. This is in keeping with the theme of sustainable development that sets a standard for future Expos. It contrasts sharply with recent ones, such as in Seville, where more than half of the buildings still sit empty and abandoned just 14 years after it closed.
To see many paintings by Goya, the Museum of Zaragoza, located in the Plaza de los Sitios, is a must visit. Goya, who moved to the city as a teenager, grew up nearby in Fuendetodos, where his home is preserved as a National Monument. Just next door, the Engraving Museum houses four of his most important print series. After a side trip there, art lovers will enjoy a visit to the local hermitage in nearby Muel, where some of Goya’s earliest frescoes, dating back to 1771, can be seen.
Wine & Fine Dining
Nearby Cari?ena produces some of the best wines in Aragon, some say in all of Spain. Excellent, full-bodied tintos are produced from such grape varieties as Garnacha, Tempranillo and Cari?ena. (Yes, Cari?ena is both a grape variety and a wine region. The 2004 Agles, and Terra V were memorable paired with my favorite dinners.) Macabeo is the main variety for blanco, or white wine. All produce excellent accompaniments to the delicious foods of the region. Roast lamb, rabbit and pork are the meats in a typical meal. The hairy (and delicious) herb borage is popular, too, appearing either as a condiment, vegetable or dessert at most sittings. The local specialty, Migas, is a dish of fried bread crumbs and odd bits of ham and cheese, fish or vegetables, and is a great-tasting way to clean up any leftovers. Potatoes, rice and wonderful breads are other starches to be found on the menu, followed by an incredible selection of desserts whose shape and taste are only limited by the imagination of the chefs.
And trust me, imagination is no problem! Top restaurants are taking the region’s traditional dishes and giving them a modern twist, following the culinary movement happening elsewhere in Spain. Be prepared for surprising meals in unprepossessing locales, served family-style by second and third generation restauranteurs. Finally, the hospitality of the locals will remind you of Spain before it took the lead as an international tourist destination. Everybody is just "down home" nice.
BELCHITE - Spanish Civil War Monument
There is more than just art and wine to lure you into the countryside surrounding Zaragoza. The military history of Spain is strikingly visible a scant half hour from the city. During the Spanish Civil War the picturesque village of Belchite was destroyed in a series of air and ground raids. What was not destroyed, burned in the firestorm. General Franco declared that Belchite be preserved in total destruction, just as the soldiers left it. Today it is a national historic site dedicated to reminding future generations of the horrors of war as no granite monument can.
Planning Your Trip
Zaragoza has everything: fine food, architecture and 2000 years of cultural history. Plus, it is easy to get to by plane or high-speed train. Zaragoza is a wonderful side trip or destination even without the International Expo in the Summer of 2008, but, why not have it all?
For more information on Zaragoza and the Aragon region, visit www.zaragozaturismo.es.
Stay: Hotel Silken Zentro is Zaragoza’s newest boutique hotel and has a historic Modernist fa?ade. 85-95 Euros per night.
Fly: Iberia Airlines has convenient flights to Spain.
Eat: Restaurante Aragonia Paradis was the Winner of the Best Zaragoza Restaurant Award and can be found at the Hotel Palafox