The Aljafería Palace, which inspired the Italian composer’s opera Il trovatore, was built in the eleventh century as a pleasure palace for the Muslim kings who ruled the taifa of Sarakusta, is today one of the most representative monuments of the Mudejar style. It houses three palaces: Taifal Palace of Al-Muqtadir, Palace of Pedro IV and the Palace of the Catholic Monarchs was also the Court of the Holy Office of the Inquisition.
The original name of this palace was al Qasr al-surûr (House of rejoicing) and although it is better known by the name of Aljafería, derivation of al Qasr al-Ja’fariyya (Palace of Abu Yapar).
World Heritage Site
The Aljafería Palace was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2001, making special mention of the Aljafería due to its singular relevance; there is no doubt of its symbolism in Aragonese civil architecture.
To what does the Trovattore tower owe its name?
Here it is time to take a walk through history, more specifically in the nineteenth century, when Antonio García Gutiérrez wrote a drama in the style of Romeo and Juliet or “Lovers of Teruel”, this referred to a troubadour in love, who was locked up in that tower by the Count of Luna.
Verdi, fixed his eyes on this famous story and adapted it to his opera II Trovattore, curiously, the tower adopted this name, although some have mistakenly come to think the opposite, that the work owes its name to the tower. Unfortunately, this event, which had the famous Verdi as a protagonist, was not taken more advantage of, since apart from the tower, in Zaragoza, there is only a building and a street, both little known.
Its historical value is compared to the Mosque of Cordova.
As we have mentioned, on a par with the Mosque of Cordoba and the Alhambra in Granada, this imposing castle-palace is considered one of the best examples of Islamic architecture in Spain, and it was this consideration that led it to deserve the title of World Heritage Site by Unesco, within the group of Aragonese Mudejar architecture.
Residence of Kings
In 1118, during the conquest of the city by Alfonso the Battler, the Aljafería Palace became the residence of the kings of Aragon. Due to this, as time went by, numerous reforms were carried out in the palace in order to adapt it to the demands of the monarchs, an example of these reforms are the defensive constructions of Renaissance style.
The “Troubadour’s Tower”/Record of visitors
Within the defensive constructions is this tower, which is the oldest structure that is preserved in the Aljafería Palace, it was built in the late ninth century, then became the keep after the Christian conquest.
In 2021 the record number of visitors to the Troubadour Tower was broken, despite the multiple restrictions imposed because of the covid-19 pandemic. A total of 102,351 people enjoyed this jewel of Aragonese Mudejar art.
- It served as the seat of the Inquisition Tribunal, including its prisons, since 1485.
- Reformed in 1492 by the Catholic Monarchs (important modifications: a staircase, gallery and a set of rooms called “Pasos Perdidos” (Lost Steps) with a Gothic-Mudejar roof culminating in the “Gran Salón del Trono” (Great Hall of the Throne).
- In the year 1593 Philip II transformed it into barracks, ordering to adapt the castle for the new artillery weapons, the engineer Tiburcio Spanocchi added a barrier in slope with pentagonal bastions in the angles, in addition to a moat.
- During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries there were profound interventions for the barracks.
- The renovations continued until the 19th century in 1862.
What to see in the Palace
Once you enter the monument, the first thing you find are the beautiful arcades of the Islamic palace, its contrast with the “Torre del Trovador” is impressive, this is the oldest medieval construction of the palace, it is very famous -as mentioned- because the famous opera ‘Il trovatore’, by Giuseppe Verdi, adapted the theatrical success of the tragedy written by Antonio García Gutiérrez in 1836.
Secrets it keeps
Its rooms keep secrets like the “Mirhab”, this served as a mosque or private oratory of the Muslim king and his court, was built in the eleventh century and oriented towards Mecca. Curiously, it is accessed through a door with a horseshoe arch, inspired by the Mosque of Cordoba?
In addition, some visitors say that the inner courtyard of La Aljaferia, “Patio de Santa Isabel” named in honor of the Infanta Isabel of Aragon, is a privileged place, as it is an open and landscaped space which unified the entire Taifal palace.
The inner courtyard still surprises visitors, sharpening their senses thanks to the sour smell of orange trees, precious and multicolored and unique sculptures in its style, plus the sweet sound of water from the fountains, invites relaxation.
Another of its secrets is the Salón de Mármoles or Salón Dorado that was the main room of the Palace and that, as a curiosity, served as inspiration to the renowned writer José Luis Corral Lafuente, professor of Medieval History at the University of Zaragoza, for his best seller: “El salon dorado”.
How to get to the Aljaferia Palace
Once you are in Zaragoza, it is very easy to get there, the Aljaferia is located at the confluence of 3 important neighborhoods of the city, the Casco Historico, the Almozara and the Delicias.
You have many options when visiting this monument, it can be free or with guided tour; its unique and beautiful interior, will be an unparalleled experience, as this place reflects the passage of two of the most important cultures that reigned in Zaragoza, the Muslim and the Christian.
In addition, you can use the official mobile app, where you will find practical information, which allows you to check the activities and temporary exhibitions that have been scheduled in the palace.
Guided tours are offered daily, with which you can learn about the history and architecture of this jewel.
The truth is that walking within the walls of this palace where much of the history of Aragon took place, where stories still live in each visit, as well as the famous protagonists of stories, legends and even an opera. It is an experience not to be missed! to enter this Palace is to take a walk through the story of Romeo and Julia, and ultimately, to fall in love with it!