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 underwent various alterations after 1118 when Zaragoza passed into Christian hands. In the 1490s the Reyes Católicos (Catholic Monarchs), Fernando and Isabel, tacked on their own palace. From the 1590s the Aljafería was developed into more of a fortress than a palace. Twentieth-century restorations brought it back to life, and Aragón's regional parliament has been housed here since 1987.
Inside the main gate, cross the rather dull introductory courtyard into the Patio de Santa Isabel, once the central courtyard of the Islamic palace. Here you encounter the delicate interwoven arches typical of the geometric mastery of Islamic architecture. Opening off the stunning northern portico is a small, octagonal oratorio (prayer room) with a superb horseshoe-arched doorway leading into its mihrab (prayer niche indicating the direction of Mecca). The finely chiselled floral motifs, Arabic inscriptions from the Quran and a pleasingly simple cupola are fine examples of Islamic art.
Moving upstairs, you pass through rooms of the Palacio Cristiano Medieval, created mostly by Aragonese monarchs in the 14th century, followed by the Palacio de los Reyes Católicos (Catholic Monarchs' Palace) which, as though by way of 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 often closed Thursday, Friday morning or Sunday afternoon in non-peak times.