History of Zaragoza

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Zaragoza was founded in the year 24 BC by the legions that had taken part in the Cantabrian Wars, in Augustus' time. The city took its name from the emperor Caesaraugusta (Caesar Augustus) and was an important city with 30,000 inhabitants as well as baths, sewers, a theatre (6,000 capacity), a market, temples, a port and a road network that connected it to other cities in the empire. The city was built on the Ebro River - the ancient Iber -, an area populated by the Sedetans, an Iberian folk. By the end of the empire, Zaragoza had acquired some importance in ancient texts due to its Christian community (a council was held here in 380 which condemned Priscilians heresy).

After a period of three hundred years of Visigothic domination, Zaragoza - like the rest of the country - fell under Moorish influence, in 714. Zaragoza became Saraqusta, also known as Medina Albayda: "white city". Saraqusta became the capital of an important Taifa Kingdom, which reached as far as Tortosa and had its utmost splendour in the 11th century, when it became an international and cosmopolitan city for traders, and an important slave market. King Abu Yafar al-Muqtadir, a poet and astronomer wrote about his palace the Aljafería: "Oh palace of happiness! hall of gold! With you I have reached the summit of my desires, even if my kingdom contained nothing else, with you all my desires would be satisfied." At the same time and in the same palace lived Avempace, who was a translator and commentator of Aristoteles philosophy and influenced Averroes and Saint Thomas of Aquinas.

In 1118 the king of Aragón, Alfonso I, won Zaragoza back from the Moors and it became the new capital of the kingdom. The old main mosque of Saraqusta became a Romanesque cathedral, later Gothic and Mudéjar. In this cathedral, today called Seo, the kings of Aragón were crowned. The royal residence was the Aljafería, which under Pedro IV was enlarged and reformed (the king even had a zoo there).

A few of the citys most important religious monuments from the 14th century are still in good condition, including the churches of San Pablo , la Magdalena, San Gil and San Miguel. These are all examples of the mudéjar arquitecture style from after the Reconquest, which is characterized by a fusion on Roman, Gothic and Arabic elements.

16-17th Centuries
It was in the 16th century that the city blossomed economically. With 25,000 inhabitants, Zaragoza became the fourth largest city in Spain after Seville, Valencia and Barcelona, and was bigger than Madrid. It was a city of traders. The Lonja testifies to its splendour; it is considered to be the most beautiful Renaissance building in Aragón, and stock sales and purchases took place within its walls.

During this period, the new nobility built a large number of palaces and aristocratic houses. The political conflicts due to the Antonio Pérez case in 1591, which culminated in the execution of the Judge of Aragón, Juan de Lanuza, initiated the decadence, misery and darkness of the 17th century, which was generalized throughout Spain. This is when Santa Isabel Church and the characteristic Basílica del Pilar, located in the plaza (square) of the same name, was built beside the River Ebro. The Virgen del Pilar, patron saint of Spain, is worshipped within.

18th Century
The second half of the 18th century saw progress in the city, due to the Enlightenment. A large number of public works were completed: the Royal House of Misericordia, the bullring, and above all the Imperial Canal, which traverses the city in the south. The painter Francisco de Goya, who is the most illustrious citizen that Zaragoza has ever produced, was living here at the time.

19th-20th Centuries
The 19th century began tragically. In 1808 the French troops, alleging they were going to Portugal, took Spain. The first siege around Zaragoza took place during the summer of 1808. The city had 55,000 inhabitants at the time and defended itself bravely under José Palafox. After the French defeat at Bailén, on August 13th, the first siege finished. But some months later, in December of the same year, a second and definitive siege started commanded by three French generals. In the end the city was defended house by house and on February 20th, the destroyed city surrendered. This heroic defence lent fame to Zaragoza, which took the title "Immortal". Today, homage is paid to those tragic times through nomenclature; two important examples are Paseo de la Independencia (Independence Avenue) and Plaza de los Sitios (Square of the Sieges).

The second half of the 19th century saw more destruction. There was no respect for heritage, and this was the cause for atrocities such as the destruction of Torre Nueva, a Mudéjar tower from the 16th century that was almost 70 metres high. In addition to a part of the city wall, some gates and some palaces were destroyed.

Zaragoza is currently the fifth biggest city in Spain and has 650,000 inhabitants. It is the seat of the Government of Aragón and is a modern city, which since the sixties has grown considerably. Its strategic location in the centre of northeast Spain makes it an ideal place for conferences, since it lies in the centre of the Madrid-Barcelona and Valencia-Bilbao axes, and is only 250 kilometres from France.