Thanksgiving in Zaragoza

Creating ways to celebrate Thanksgiving in Northeastern Spain was a challenge we joyfully accepted.

Thanksgiving is one of the few times as travelers, when we miss the tastes and traditions of home. This time last year we had just arrived in the USA in time to have one plateful of delicious Thanksgiving leftovers – the best! 🦃 This year, the challenge was to locate as many Thanksgiving flavors as possible and make our own meal. To build our feast we had only one oven proof baking bowl that worked in the small microwave-convection oven combo and a 2-burner stove-top along with a couple of cooking pots and frying pans. No real oven.😮 Nonetheless we were able to pull together a token Thanksgiving meal. We found bone-in turkey thigh cutlets that we pan fried and served with a sage-onion-cream sauce, we made a dressing with gluten free bread, sausages, onions, mushrooms, apples, dates and sage (couldn’t find poultry seasoning), a traditional cranberry sauce, a mound of sweet potatoes with butter, honey and cinnamon, topped with toasted pumpkin seeds and green onions and finally a fresh green salad with browned mushrooms and baked persimmons in an orange vinaigrette.  Dessert was typically Spanish, a delicious flaky tarte de manzana (apple tart) fresh from a bakery. 

Apple Tart

While this North American Holiday is not celebrated in Spain, it was interesting to see ads everywhere for ‘Black Friday’ sales.


Zaragoza is the capital city of the Province of Zaragoza and the capital of the Autonomous Community of Aragón, Spain. During our visit the Ebro River that runs through the city was extremely high and running very fast. The population of Zaragoza is ~700,000, which is more than 50 percent of the entire population of the 3 provinces that make up Aragón.

Ebro River

The city’s 3 most famous, must-see landmarks are the Basílica del Pilar, La Seo Cathedral and the Aljafería Palace.  La Seo and the Aljafería along with several other buildings are part of the Mudéjar Architecture of Aragón UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The bullring, Plaza de Toros de La Misericordia, opened in 1764 and is a magnificent example of the neo-Mudéjar style of architecture.

Plaza de Toros de La Misericordia

Brief Ancient History

The site now occupied by Zaragoza has been an uninterrupted human settlement for more than two thousand years. The city’s name has changed during the course of history. The Romans are credited with founding the city between 25 BCE and 11 BCE, on the same site used by an early Iberian tribe, and they named their city Caesaraugusta, after Augustus Caesar. When the Roman empire began to implode, the Visigoths peacefully took over the city in the 5th century CE and left the name in tact. In the 11th century the conquering Moors changed the spelling and pronunciation slightly to Saraqusta and with a few tweaks by the Aragónese in 1118, the city’s name became Zaragoza. 

From 1018 to 1118, Zaragoza was an independent Muslim-ruled principality referred to as a taifa kingdom and led by an emirate, a noble who is a highly ranked military commander. 900 years ago, in 1118, the Aragónese led by Alfonso I conquered the city and made it the capital of the Kingdom of Aragón. Although no longer called the Kingdom of Aragón but instead called the Autonomous Community of Aragón, Zaragoza retains its title as the capital. 

One day we walked across the oldest bridge, named the Puente de Piedra (the Stone Bridge) to explore the other side of the Ebro River. The stone bridge had a rough start in life. Building began in the 12th century but soon ground to a halt. Late in the 14th century work began again and by early in the 15th century the bridge was finally completed. A flood in 1643 destroyed two central bridge spans but in 1659 the bridge was repaired and it has been repaired and enlarged a number of times since then. Today it is a 2-lane bridge with large pedestrian pathways on both sides and it offers amazing views of the city.

Puente de Piedra (the Stone Bridge)

Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar

In the heart of Zaragoza’s old historic area is Plaza Pilar, with the colossal Basílica of Our Lady of the Pilar, the symbol of Zaragoza, sitting at its center. This monumental Mudéjar structure was built in 1681 replacing the Gothic version built in 1515, which replaced a 1443 Romanesque style version. The earliest written record of 1318, claims that the first church in Hispania was built in 40 CE by the Apostle, James the Greater on this very site.

Rooftops of the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar

According to a very old legend, while the Virgin Mary was still living in Palestine, around 40 CE she miraculously appeared with a column or pillar to St. James the Apostle, while he was praying at the banks of the Ebro River in Caesaraugusta (Zaragoza). Mary, the apparition, requested of James the Apostle that he build a chapel using the pillar. He did and this is the location of the famous basílica called Nuestra Señora del Pilar (“Our Lady of the Pillar”). Among Catholics, this is considered the first Marian apparition, and uniquely the only known apparition to have occurred while Mary was still alive on earth. 

Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar

Our header photo is a view of the Basílica del Pilar from across the River Ebro, looking west, with the Puente de Piedra in the foreground.

Catedral del Salvador or La Seo de Zaragoza

Sharing the same square as the Basílica del Pilar is Cathedral of the Savior, simply known as La Seo. This church was built in the 12th century overtop an existing 11th century mosque. It was expanded in the 13th and 16th centuries and has undergone a number of restorations since then.  The square-box shaped building sitting out of front of La Seo is the Caesaraugusta Forum Museum.

Catedral del Salvador or La Seo de Zaragoza

Like so many other churches we discovered in Zaragoza, the high altarpiece is made of alabaster and the carved details are incredibly beautiful. We took only a handful of photos inside this Cathedral before being informed photos were not permitted. 

There is a Tapestry Museum located upstairs within the Sacristy of La Seo. Exhibited are pieces from a 63-piece tapestry collection woven during the golden age of tapestry in the 15th and 16th centuries from the most famous European workshops in Arras, Tournai and Brussels.  The museum opened in 1932 and has 3 exhibition rooms. Some of the tapestries were donated by Archbishops, nobles and descendants of kings and some were purchased from private owners. The themes of the tapestries are primarily from the Bible, but there are zodiacal tapestries and a series on the History of Troy and the Trojan War as well as a series on Roman history. 

Similar to France’s Apocalypse Tapestries, created in the 14th century and on display at Château d’Angers in the Loire Valley, Spain too takes great pride in these historical and cultural tapestries. Unlike in France though, photos were not permitted so we have no pictures to share.

Catedral del Salvador or La Seo de Zaragoza

Iglesia de Santa Isabel

In 1681 the impressive Saint Isabel Church, also referred to as San Cayetano, was built. Each time we walked around the corner into Plaza del Justicia and saw the amazing façade of this church we were completely awed by it. Unfortunately many of Zaragoza’s churches do not post their hours, either online or at the church so we were not able to see inside.

Iglesia de Santa Isabel

Parish Church of San Pablo

The Church of Saint Paul was originally built in 1118 and dedicated to San Blas, a medical healer and Bishop who was martyred in 316 CE. Later the chapel became the parish Church of St. Paul after it was rebuilt in the 13th-14th centuries. Along with a handful of other churches in Zaragoza, the towers of the churches are believed to be old minarets from the 11th century. The Mudéjar style of these churches have collectively been declared UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The beautifully carved doors to the vestibule of the church reminded us of the famous Gates of Paradise, the pair of gilded bronze doors of the Florence Baptistery, designed in 1425-52 by the famous Italian sculptor, Lorenzo Ghiberti.

Parish Church of San Pablo

San Pablo is a magnificent old church and we spent quite a lot of time inside both the church and the cloister. A treasure indeed that we were able to experience.  Late in our stay in Zaragoza we returned to listen to a music program celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Professional Conservatory of Music of Zaragoza. The students played a unique variety of instruments including a lovely harp, both a regular lute as well as a long necked lute called a Theorbo, and a large 2-tier wooden marimba.

Parish Church of San Pablo

How did we celebrate our Thanksgiving holiday?

Our day began with a nice long walk in the 60°F / 16°C sunshine. We visited a contemporary art gallery, feasted on our Thanksgiving dinner, attended a musical concert in a 900-year-old church and meandered past Basílica de Pilar to be amazed once more not only at its massive size, but by the interesting shapes and colors of its numerous domes and to stand and take it how wonderful it looks lit up at night. We are so thankful we have this time to explore.

We hope you had a safe, healthy and happy Thanksgiving!

Salud from these Zaragozano,

Ted and Julia

View The Rest of Zaragoza photo gallery here

View our Churches of Zaragoza photo gallery here:
– Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar
– Catedral del Salvador de Zaragoza
– Church of San Juan de los Panetes
– Parish Church of San Pablo

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