Back to Paris and Northern Spain Index Page
<< Day 8: Tolosa—Basque Town Extraordinaire | Day 10: Zaragoza to Barcelona >>
Zaragoza—Cathedrals and Roman Ruins
In a corner café, we sat elbow to elbow with the locals, sipping our cups of espresso (and hot chocolate) and eating pastries. The children wrote in their journals, and Ben and I nodded and exchanged smiles and hellos with the people around us. The town of Tolosa was just as enchanting in the morning light.
When checking out of our hotel, we told the desk clerk how much we had enjoyed our stay in Tolosa. She responded that twenty years ago the town was much more industrial, with many paper mills; she added that the town has changed a lot, and she thinks that it is now much nicer.
Here is Genevieve in our rental car outside the hotel:
Tomorrow we needed to be in Barcelona, along the Mediterranean Sea, for a family gathering. Our goal today was to drive about 2 ½ hours to reach the city of Zaragoza, which was almost half way between Tolosa and Barcelona.
Our route out of Tolosa crossed over the Oria River, where we caught one last view of the arches that span the Tinglado marketplace:
We threaded our way through the narrow streets on the other side of the river:
On the outskirts of town, the clouds were resting low on the hillsides:
Around a few curves was a paper mill:
Our two-lane road crossed a small series of mountains. Here are some buildings we saw along the way:
We eventually connected with a larger highway that ran above the clouds.
We were taking this highway south, all of the way to the city of Zaragoza.
The freeway signs were in the Basque language:
While the Basque language has been influenced by Spanish and French words over the years, it is not related to any Indo-European language, and its origins remain a mystery.
We joined the lines of cars waiting to pay a toll for the privilege of driving on the expressway.
The tolls on Spanish highways are very expensive—1.9 Euros here, 3.2 Euros there, 4.85 Euros there again, and 7.65 Euros further down the road. The cost added up. We paid over $24U.S. in tolls in less than an hour of driving. I can only imagine the uproar back home if Californians were faced with paying comparable fees. (But perhaps road repairs would be well funded, and people might drive less.)
This tall sculpture was on guard at the northern edge of Pamplona:
Pamplona is famous for its annual running of the bulls, and Ben had experienced that event many years ago.
Continuing south, we passed a long expanse of the Aqueduct Noain.
The aqueduct was completed in 1790 to bring water to Pamplona from about 10 miles away (the springs of Subiza). Today, it is no longer used to transport water. Some of the arch supports had to be removed when the railroad, and later the highway, were constructed under the aqueduct. In the photo below, you can see where one of the arch supports is missing where the railroad tracks go underneath (about 1/3 over from the left side):
Genevieve missed the sight of the aqueduct, lost in her own dreams.
Sebastian was still awake, and was quick to show me “Kitty”, his faithful companion since he was an infant (slowly but surely being loved to death).
The mountains of the north gradually flattened out as we continued our southward journey, leaving the Basque area. Before reaching the plains, we traveled through a series of rolling hills. Some of the hilltops had towns on them:
And occasionally, there were the remnants of an old castle:
One stretch of hills was covered with wind turbines and electrical towers:
Along with the wind turbines were some fields of solar panels:
There was no sun today, however. The rain was still pouring when we reached Zaragoza. Here is a modern pedestrian bridge that leads from the city’s train station and crosses the busy ring road:
A tall obelisk stood in the middle of Plaza de Europa, located in a traffic circle:
We easily found our hotel in the heart of the city—Hotel Sauce.
The receptionist did not speak English, but she was friendly and very patient with our Spanish. We had a double room on the top floor. Here are Genevieve and Sebastian peeking from the window:
The view down the street:
To find a good lunch spot, we headed away from the Plaza del Pilar area, and took some narrow alleys to reach the Bodeguilla de Santa Cruz.
We were welcomed heartily by the man behind the bar area. We ordered various tapas, which were so good that we ended up ordering more. Here we are, waiting for the food to arrive:
We then strolled down the main street toward the Plaza del Pilar:
The Plaza was immense, with the impressive Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, a Roman Catholic church, on the north side:
Genevieve and Sebastian loved the freedom of running across the wide open spaces in the Plaza:
We walked from one end of the Plaza to the other. Looking back:
Another view of the Basilica, with its domed and tiled rooftops:
We caught a bride holding hands with one of the many statues in the Plaza:
At the far end of the Plaza was this large round globe sculpture:
Beyond that was the Fuente de la Hispanidad, which celebrates the Hispanic world with an elevated map of Latin America. Here is Sebastian dipping his hands into the top part of South America, which has water running down the jagged top edges (with Panama and the rest of Central America extending off to the upper right):
The tall backside of the fountain appears as a blue-block structure that seemed incongruous with the rest of the Plaza:
Beyond the fountain was the 17th century Church of San Juan de Los Panetes, with its octagonal brick tower that leans distinctly to one side.
The church was closed to the public.
Keeping the Plaza del Pilar clean was a little green street sweeping machine:
After exploring the Plaza area, we retraced our steps and entered the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar.
This building is named after the pillar that stands in the center of the church. The Virgin Mary supposedly appeared here to St. James in 40 A.D., while he was praying by the river about his mission to spread the Gospel in Spain. He claimed that Mary gave him a column of jasper and a small wooden statue of herself, and told him to build a church here in her honor. This apparition is unique because it is the only one to have occurred while Mary was still alive, before her accension, and it resulted in the construction of the first church dedicated to Mary. Countless people have come (and continue to come) here in pilgrimage, standing in line to touch a portion of the pillar (the jasper column) given by Mary.
We didn’t snap any photos of the pillar out of respect for the line of people waiting to touch it. But here is a picture that we extracted from Wikipedia:
We had read that the views from the Torre (tower) in the northwest corner of the church were incredible. The idea of climbing narrow spaces was a magnet for Genevieve and Sebastian, and we eventually found the tower entrance outside the back of the church. After paying a small fee, we boarded an old-fashioned elevator with a metal grate door and started up through the tower.
Inside the elevator:
Looking down the elevator shaft:
We then started climbing up into the tower top.
Genevieve and Sebastian, almost at the top:
Wow! The views were indeed breathtaking!
The River Ebro, looking east:
Looking west, down onto the Plaza del Pilar, we could see the raised design of the Fuente de la Hispanidad, with the long shape of South America filled with water.
At the eastern end of Plaza del Pilar was the tall tower of La Seo Cathedral, which was constructed on top of both Moorish and Roman ruins.
From way up here, we could see the colorful tiles on the church roof:
Sebastian, Ben, and Genevieve, at the top of the tower:
After we had soaked in our fill of the glorious, panoramic views, we headed back down the winding staircase:
I must add, however, that those stairs can be slippery! In a maneuver that I am grateful was not captured on film (but which involved a spectacular “save” at the end), I acquired some scrapes while descending.
Genevieve and Sebastian walking back to the hotel on the wide, clean sidewalks:
On the way, the ice cream (helado) shop enticed us!
Sebastian finished his ice cream cone back at the hotel:
The view from our window showed some sunny blue skies—a rarity on this trip!
After a brief rest, we headed out again—this time to see the Roman ruins at the Ceasaraugusta Theater Museum. The museum was only a short walk from our hotel.
The historic area of Zaragoza sits on the former site of a Roman city named Ceasaraugusta, the only Roman city to bear both the first and last name of its founder, Ceasar Augustus. The city is believed to have been founded in 14 B.C., and it thrived during the 1st and 2nd centuries. In 1972, the remains of a large Roman Theater were uncovered by a construction crew that was preparing a piece of ground for a new building. Of all the structures that remain of Ceasaraugusta, the Theater is the best preserved. It is believed to have been built in the 1st century A.D.
After the Theater was discovered in 1972, the area was excavated and a museum was built in 2002.
The museum interior had some models of how archeologists believe the Theater originally appeared. Here is Genevieve with a small-scale model:
And here she is with a larger-scale model:
Archeologists believe that the Theater had retractable sheets of velum over the top to shield the spectators.
The museum also had some pieces of sculpture and architectural details that had been uncovered during the excavation.
From the large viewing windows, we could look out onto the Theater remains:
We also walked through the Theater on a wooden platform path:
Here is the stage:
The seats closest to the stage, in the orchestra, were reserved for senators, priests, magistrates and other high officials. The seats above them held the knights. The next set of seats held colonists, residents, and freedmen. Women and slaves had to stand in the upper tiers, unless there were any free seats remaining.
As we walked through the Theater, each section had an explanation with an illustration to show how the original might have looked. Here is Genevieve in front of an area that is believed to be the exterior façade of the Theater:
The central area:
Other parts of the Theater:
During its heyday, the Roman theater depicted all aspects of Roman life, and was attended by men, women, slaves and senators. Comedy and mime appealed to a wider audience because they were easier to understand, while tragedies required an audience that was familiar with Greek culture.
Genevieve and Sebastian put their faces against some theater masks and looked at their reflections in a mirror.
The Theater Museum had detailed, interactive exhibits covering the history of the Roman Theater site, from the time it ceased to be a theater to the present day. We learned that Theater attendance had gradually declined over the years, as it was competing for an audience with the more exciting circus and amphitheater. In the 3rd century A.D., the city residents began taking stones from the Theater to reinforce the city walls against attacks from barbarians. Performances in the Theater came to an end when the orchestra and first layer of seats were filled in with dirt, creating a large flat area. Later in the 3rd century, people began using the Theater as living quarters. During the following centuries, it was used as rubbish dump, and eventually became part of the Muslim Quarter, then part of the Jewish Quarter, and finally part of the Christian community.
We all thought that the Theater Museum was fascinating, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there.
Our next quest was to find a dinner restaurant. After much walking, and circling through a section of twisting streets, we located the restaurant that was highly recommended in our guidebook; but it was packed with no empty tables. Another lively restaurant down the street had a free table; however, after we were seated, no one ever came to take our order. After 15 minutes, we left.
Here is some graffiti art that we passed in our restaurant search:
The next restaurant we tried was empty (which should have been a big red flag in light of how packed all the other restaurants were). The man at the door did not return my “Buenas tardes”, although Ben (behind me) got a nice greeting. When I sat down at an empty table, the man rushed at me and started yelling—apparently because he needed to put silverware down first. Yikes! We skedaddled.
We finally found a welcoming place called Café Tertutia, which was more like a pub, with a large bar area and the World Cup playoffs on TV. For us, there was a free table and delicious plates of tomato and avocado salad, calamari, and a dish with fried eggs, potatoes and shrimp. Over dinner, we watched an exciting soccer match between the U.S. and England.
Sebastian and Genevieve were tired but content:
We had originally chosen Zaragoza for its location as a “good stopping point” on our way to Barcelona. However, we had been surprised at all of the wonders that this city had to offer—beautiful cathedrals, amazing views, and a rich history that included Roman ruins. We would be heading to Barcelona tomorrow morning. But Zaragoza was definitely a city that would leave us wanting more.
Back to Home Page
Back to Paris and Northern Spain Index Page
<< Day 8: Tolosa—Basque Town Extraordinaire | Day 10: Zaragoza to Barcelona >>