With it’s blend of romanesque, modernist and art deco buildings, Zamora is an architectural gem.
Zamora is called a “Museum of Romanesque Architecture” because there are 24 romanesque churches built between the 12th and 13th centuries in the city; the largest concentration in all of Europe. One of the finer examples of Spanish Romanesque architecture is our partial photo of the Cathedral of Zamora below.
As striking as the romanesque buildings are, it may however, be the city’s second golden age of architectural style that really caught our fancy. In the latter part of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century, Zamora underwent a period of expansion and wealth as a result of its developing flour industry, which in turn attracted a few talented architects. Dozens of remarkable buildings built in the early 1900’s in the art deco and modernism styles with electric elements mixed in, can be found throughout the older part of this interesting city.
Spanish architect Ferriol Carreras (1871-1946) was a major influence in Zamora and designed more than 20 buildings between 1907 and 1916 before leaving the city. He was influenced by Antonio Gaudí and trained with Luis Domènech i Montaner, the famed modernista architect of the splendid Sant Pau Hospital in Barcelona that we shared here: Bustling Barcelona
Zamora is deservedly proud that they are one of the few non-Mediterranean Spanish cities to be included in the European Route of Modernism.
A Brief History
Archaeological excavations have uncovered the existence of man in this region from the Neolithic period (8,000 – 3,000 BCE), archaeological traces of Phoenician settlements (1,500 – 600 BCE) and organized settlements of Celtiberians (600 BCE – until they were absorbed into the early Roman culture).
After the landing of the Roman legions on the peninsula in 218 BCE there were ongoing confrontations throughout the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE between the Romans and the Celtiberians. In one village, a shepherd named Viriato united the local tribes against the Romans. He began a guerrilla-type of warfare, wearing away at the military presence of Rome and continued the fight for several years, successively defeating eight Roman consuls. For each defeat he added one red band to his military banners.
After the Roman empire left the area, the Visigoths entered the Iberian Peninsula and two coins have been found from the Visigothic period showing they called their city ‘Semure’.
In the middle of the 8th century, the Arabs settled into the deserted city and named it ‘Azemur’ – meaning wild olive grove and ‘Samurah’ meaning city of the turquoise.
The Day of Zamora, in 901 CE was the successful battle of the Christian Spanish Reconquista that won the city, and they tweaked the city’s name to Zamora.
There are approximately 62,000 inhabitants living in the city today and Zamora is the capital city in the province of Zamora, within the autonomous community of Castile and León.
Referring to historic battles that took place in the 11th and 12th centuries in Zamora, there is a saying similar to the proverb “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” The Spanish saying is, ‘No se ganó Zamora en una hora’, literally, Zamora wasn’t won in an hour.
Zamora lost much of its political and economic importance and lost thousands of residents due to emigration in the early-to-mid 20th century, especially to South America where a number of cities were named Zamora. There is a city called Zamora in Mexico, Columbia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba, Honduras and Bolivia.
The Bermeja Sign
The symbol of the city of Zamora, is a flag known as the “Bermeja Sign”, made of one green and eight red horizontal stripes.
The photo below may not be an ideal picture of the flag but we hope it shows that each stripe is cut lengthwise, with each of the 9 stripes flying freely and that you can see the top green band has caught on the light beside it.
The red stripes represent the eight victories of Viriato over various Roman consuls as described above and the emerald green stripe was granted to the city by the Catholic Monarchs in recognition of the city’s support given in a decisive battle in 1476 in the War of Succession for the Crown of Castile. (Isabella successfully won the title over Joanna and Isabella, as Queen, would go to fund Christopher Columbus’s expedition to the ‘New World’ )
Castle of Zamora
The Castle of Zamora was the cornerstone of the city’s defences.
Perched overlooking the Duero River and valley, the Castle also provides great views of the cathedral. It is currently free to enter and in addition to exploring the partial ruins, there are interesting modern art sculptures placed throughout the grounds.
Museum of Zamora
Local historical finds are on display in the Zamora Museum. The archaeological hoard of jewelry pieces called the Treasure of Arrabalde are important in the study of the Celtiberian peninsula society. It is one of the largest collections of Pre-Roman gold and silver found in the Celtiberian area of the Duero river basin.
Museo Baltasar Lobo
Baltasar Lobo (1910-1993) was a Spanish artist, anarchist and sculptor from Zamora and is best known for his sculptures of the female form and often a mother and child. Exiled after the Civil War, he moved to Paris and his art was exhibited next to the works of Matisse, Picasso and others.
The Museo houses over fifty of Lobo’s works created throughout his life together with drawings, photographs and his tools. The museum is next door to Zamora Castle where large sculptures have been installed throughout the castle grounds.
Cathedral of Zamora
The romanesque Cathedral of El Salvador was built in 23 short years (1151-1174) by a monk and it is one of the oldest churches in the region. The dome is so unique from the outside and the most recognisable feature of the cathedral. The inside is incredible as well. Don’t forget to look up at the huge and colorful organ. It sits above the magnificently detailed woodwork of the choir.
The Cathedral Museum is also worth a walk through. There are 3 rooms filled with huge wall sized Flemish tapestries from the 15th to 17th centuries. They were donated to Zamora in 1608 and are still in exceptional condition. The best are the tapestries that depict the Trojan War and the History of Hannibal. These tapestries were woven in workshops in Brussels and are considered one of the better collections in Europe.
We toured 6 more beautiful old churches in Zamora and we have linked a few of our favorite photos of each below.
Aceñas de Olivares
The Aceñas de Olivares was one of the first industries in Zamora. Built in the 10th century these water wheels used the power of the river to move “grindstones” that turned grain into flour. During the Middle Ages it was common to see numerous water mills located on the banks of the Zamora river.
Early documentation shows that the mechanical devices called “aceña” were mechanisms that operated in rivers with a fast flow, while the term “mill” was applied in riverbeds with a slower flow. The first written reference to aceña’s operating was in 986 CE.
The watermills were not owned by a single person. Construction, maintenance and the production of wheat flour was often the responsibility of a religious community, granted to the religious orders by the king.
Today these watermills have been refurbished and are an educational and tourist site.
Museo de Semana Santa
We attended a Semana Santa (Easter) procession in Valencia a couple of years ago. The procession on Good Friday was extremely silent and somber and the procession on Easter Sunday was full of joy.
This museum, created by the brotherhoods of Semana Santa of Zamora, opened in 1964 and exhibits a collection of large elaborate floats, called pasos, of the Passion of Christ. Each paso is carried by a dozen or more strong porters, like a litter or sedan chair, and each paso is usually followed or escorted by a band during the procession. Processional crosses, incense bowls, bells, robes and capirotes, the pointed conical hats, of different brotherhoods relating to Zamora’s Holy Week are also on display.
The first reference about the celebration of Holy Week in Zamora dates back to the 13th century so witnessing a part of this history in a museum was good but to see each of these pasos moving slowly around the city during the most religious and cultural event would be amazing. This 2020 poster was published but the Semana Santa procession was cancelled.
Puente de Piedra
The Stone Bridge is one of five bridges that cross the Duero River into Zamora. Historically it is part of the Roman road and the remains of an older Roman bridge are visible still today. The original Roman bridge was destroyed in the 10th century and this ‘new’ bridge was built between the 12th and 13th century. Since 2013 it has been a pedestrian bridge and we wandered back and forth along Puente de Piedra to take in the sites along the river and of the city above.
The further west we travel the better the food we discover. The tapas in Zamora were incredibly varied and visually appealing. Toro is an area right next door to Zamora and both the white (alboriño) and red wine we tried from Toro are the best we’ve had anywhere in Spain.
Zamora is a small peaceful city, a place one can enjoy a simple life traversing the shops, bars and plazas and savouring it’s succulent cuisine.
Salud from these Zamoranos,
Ted + Julia
View the The Rest of Zamora photo gallery here
… including the Bishopric of Zamora
… including the Puente de Piedra (Stone bridge)
… including the Puente de los Poetas (The Poets bridge)
We also saw lots of churches in Zamora and here is a collection of the most interesting ones.