Most travellers who go to Zaragoza will first arrive at Zaragoza-Delícias, a joint bus-and-train station in a rather underwhelming and uninspiring suburban area of the city, and that's putting it politely. Not only do virtually all buses and trains from elsewhere arrive here at the station but also, it is where the airport bus starts and finishes all day every day. When stepping out of Zaragoza-Delícias, to the sight of motorways, modern housing blocks and other architectural mistakes, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this part of the city has nothing to offer. But don't be fooled. A fifteen-minute stroll along the side of the hideous dual carriageway that leads out from the station will take you to something that is quite literally out of this world, the Aljafería; an Islamic palace and UNESCO World Heritage Site whose origins are over a thousand years old, tucked away and hidden somewhere within the midst of surrounding modernity; a traveller's dream.
The oldest part of the Aljafería dates all the way back to the 9th century. Zaragoza was ruled by the Moors who built the Troubadour Tower, which still stands to this day, as it was incorporated into the rest of the surrounding structure. Between 1065 and 1081, the Moorish Taifal palace was built on the same site, and it was through this construction that the palace and the tower merged together. During this period, Zaragoza was the capital of a Muslim state known as the Taifa of Zaragoza, which stretched out eastward and included large parts of Spain's east coast, the regions we now refer to as Catalonia and Valencia. The Taifa of Zaragoza was ruled by an Arab dynasty known as the Banu Hud, and the Taifal Palace of the Aljafería was their home.
In 1118, the Muslim Taifa of Zaragoza came to an end as the city was conquered by the Christian Kingdom of Aragon. The building would go on to become a royal residence for the region's new Christian rulers, and would eventually become the royal palace of Spain's most famous King and Queen, Ferdinand and Isabella, whose marriage is widely regarded as the moment in which Spain was born as it united two of the largest Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula. In 1593, the Aljafería experienced its third major reform as it was converted into a renaissance style military fortress. For that reason, the Aljafería is in many ways a story of three chapters; the Moorish tower, the Islamic palace and last but not least, the fortress.
Today, inside the Aljafería, you will find a mosque of Spain's long-lost Islamic heritage, the palace of its Muslim rulers, the royal residence of Ferdinand and Isabella and overall, a building that represents so many different stages of Spain's fascinating, diverse and unique history.
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