Aljafería

Top choice palace in Zaragoza

The Aljafería is Spain's finest Islamic-era edifice outside Andalucía. Built as a fortified palace for Zaragoza's Islamic rulers in the 11th century, it passed into Christian hands in 1118. In the 1490s the Reyes Católicos (Catholic Monarchs), Fernando and Isabel, tacked on their own palace. Aragón's regional parliament has sat here since 1987.

Inside the main gate, cross an introductory courtyard into the Patio de Santa Isabel, which was the Islamic palace's central courtyard. Here you encounter the delicate interwoven arches typical of the geometric mastery of Islamic architecture. Behind the stunning northern portico is the Salón de Oro, the palace's throne room; opening off the portico is a small, octagonal oratorio (prayer room) whose finely chiselled floral motifs, inscriptions from the Quran and the pleasingly simple cupola are fine examples of Islamic art.

Moving upstairs, you pass through rooms of the Palacio Cristiano Medieval, created by Aragonese monarchs in the 14th century, followed by the Palacio de los Reyes Católicos (Catholic Monarchs' Palace) which, as though in riposte to the Islamic finery beneath it, contains some exquisite Mudéjar coffered ceilings, especially in the lavish Salón del Trono (Throne Room).

Spanish-language tours take place several times a day, and there are two daily tours each in English and French in July and August. The palace is closed to visitors some Friday mornings and Thursdays when parliamentary sessions are on.