The Pyrenees: Places to Explore

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Zaragoza

This traditionally provincial city is experiencing its greatest boom since the Romans established a thriving river port here in 25 BC. Rated one of Spain's most desirable places to live because of its air quality, low cost of living, and low population density, Zaragoza seems full of self-contained well-being. Despite its hefty size (population 674,317), this sprawling provincial capital midway between Barcelona, Madrid, Bilbao, and Valencia is a detour from the tourist track connected by the AVE, Spain's high-speed railroad, with both Madrid and Barcelona only 90 minutes away.

Straddling Spain's greatest river, the Ebro, 2,000-year-old Zaragoza was originally named Caesaraugusta, for Roman emperor Augustus. Its legacy contains everything from Roman ruins and Jewish baths to Moorish, Romanesque, Gothic-Mudéjar, Renaissance, baroque, neoclassical, and Art Nouveau architecture. Parts of the Roman walls are visible near the city's landmark, Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar. Nearby, the medieval Puente de Piedra (Stone Bridge) spans the Ebro. Checking out the Lonja (Stock Exchange), La Seo cathedral, the Moorish Aljafería (Fortified Palace and Jewel Treasury), the Mercado de Lanuza (Produce Market), and the many Mudéjar churches in the old town is a good way to navigate Zaragoza's jumble of backstreets.

Excursions from Zaragoza include Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes's birthplace at Fuendetodos, 44 km (26 miles) to the southeast, and Belchite, another 20 km (12 miles) east of Fuendetodos, site of the ruins of a town destroyed in one of the fiercest battles of the Spanish Civil War and left untouched since as a war memorial.

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