Zamora – the city with the most Romanesque churches in all of Europe

Zamora is a city and municipality located in the autonomous community of Castile and León, Spain. It is the capital of the province of Zamora. The city stands on the Duero river.

The old part of the city has been classified as a historical-artistic complex since 1973. Its main nucleus —with a very elongated layout and largely surrounded by walls— stands on a wide rocky plateau (peña tajada)  from 26 to 32 meters high, located on the edge of the River Duero, which surrounds it to the south. These characteristics earned it the nickname of “the well-fenced one.”

Its set of Romanesque buildings stands out, consisting of the 23 temples in the municipal area and the 14 churches in the historic center, data that places Zamora as the city with the highest number and quality of Romanesque temples in Europe, having requested its declaration as Heritage European.

This Romanesque heritage consists, in addition to the cathedral (which has a dome with an exterior decoration of scales), other twenty-four churches, a castle, walls, a bridge, two palaces and nine houses, which is why Zamora is considered “the city of the Romanesque”.

A total of 15 temples have been declared Asset of Cultural Interest, including some of later styles. On the other hand, its set of modernist buildings is also significant (19 in total), the only one in inland Spain together with Teruel.

Among its festivities, the celebration of Holy Week, declared of International Tourist Interest, and a Site of Interest, stands out.

The city is home to regional and international institutions, such as the Ethnographic Museum of Castilla y León, the Advisory Council of Castilla y León and the Spanish-Portuguese cooperation organization Fundación Rei Afonso Henriques (FRAH).

It was the first city in the world with global WiFi coverage, receiving the project, called “Zamora Hot City”, the “Nobel” in computing, the “Computerworld Honors”.

Main attractions

The Cathedral of Zamora is a Roman Catholic located above the right bank of the Duero. It remains surrounded by its old walls and gates.

Built between 1151 and 1174, it is one of the finest examples of Spanish Romanesque architecture.

The building is on the Latin cross plan; it has a nave and two aisles, a short transept and three semicircular apses. The latter were replaced by Gothic ones in the 15th century. The transept is covered by barrel vault, the aisles by groin vault, and the nave by cross vault in late-Romanesque or Proto-Gothic style.

The Cathedral Museum, in the 17th century cloister, is notable particularly for its fine Flemish tapestries of the 15th–17th centuries depicting scenes from the Trojan War, Hannibal’s Italian campaign, and the life of Tarquin the Etruscan king of Rome. Another treasure is a Late Gothic monstrance of 1515.

The Santa María Magdalena de Zamora is a church built in the 12th century, a small Romanesque church of the Knights Templar. The exterior features a deeply recessed south entrance, with circular arches and shafts, as well as ornate Romanesque work. The rose window, formed with small columns, is similar to the Temple Church in London. The interior includes canopied tombs dating to the 13th century, supported by spiral and fluted shafts. Against the north wall, there is a tomb under a canopy supported by three shafts.

The wall of Zamora with the defensive functions parapets the city practically from its beginnings as a city. The wall undergoes various layout modifications throughout its history, one due to the war events surrounding the history of the city, another due to the constant growth of the population and its consequent expansion.

Starting in 1868, it lost its status as the city’s defensive wall. A few years later, the architect Segundo Viloria made a plan of the city for the first time indicating its route.

The Castle of Zamora is a Middle Ages fortress. Stands northwest of the city’s Cathedral.

It features Pre-Roman foundations and a Romanesque general structure. It was built between the 10th and 12th centuries. It stands northwest of the Cathedral, with magnificent views of the town and the river from the keep.

At the moment the perimeter of the castle is conserved, surrounded by a moat that is almost complete. The most important walls, the parade ground and the keep have also survived to this day. The Decree of 04/22/1949 declares it under its protection, while in Law 16/1985 it is designated as protected by the Spanish Historical Heritage. Today it is owned by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports, which is in charge of its conservation.

The Puente de Piedra de Zamora (also called Puente Nuevo de Zamora in the Middle Ages) is one of the five bridges that cross the Duero River as it passes through the capital of the province of the same name. For centuries it was the only river crossing in the city, connecting the neighborhoods of the suburb with the historic center of the city.

Nowadays it is a link between Avenida de Vigo (right bank) and Plaza de Belén (margin left). Due to its location on the Vía de la Plata, it was an important crossing point of the Duero River for people, merchandise and transhumant herds. It was finished building at the beginning of the 13th century, and subsequently renovated on several occasions. Currently one of the most representative symbols of the city.

The Zamora Museum is a provincial museum located in the Plaza de Santa Lucía, in the neighborhood that in the medieval times was called “La Puebla del Valle”. It is owned by the Ministry of Culture (currently the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports).

It consists of a section dedicated to archeology, another to the fine arts and a third, smaller, that deals with the history of the city. In the first, the bell-shaped trousseau of Villabuena del Puente, the two pre-Roman treasures of Arrabalde, “the most spectacular set” of the museum, in the words of its director, mosaics and wall paintings from the Roman town of Requejo (Santa Cristina de La Polvorosa) and the Visigothic gold votive crosses from Villafáfila.

In the second there are paintings and sculptures that span from t14th to the middle of the 20th century. Besides, it also regularly hosts temporary exhibitions.

Cuisine and the best restaurants

Food specialties in Zamora include the pulses, the chickpeas or ‘garbanzos’ from Fuentesauco, the exquisite cheese made from sheep’s milk, honey from Sanabria, asparagus from Guareña, peppers from Benavente, steak from Aliste, mushrooms, game, cold meats, cakes and sweets.

Other specialties are the rice dishes from Zamora and the Toro wines (very dark, almost black, nowadays made using modern techniques – with a rapidly growing reputation for their taste and quality).

Traditional dishes include bacalao a la tranca (a cod dish), pulpo a la sanabresa (an octopus dish), dos y pingada (two fried eggs with fried ham, usually served at Easter) and presas de ternera (a beef dish). For dessert there is the rebojo Zamorano, a very tasty though hard type of bun, and las natillas almendradas (Spanish style custard with almonds).

There are two Michelin list restaurants in the city:

Casa Mariano, Avenida Portugal 28, 16 – 47 EUR • Traditional Cuisine

Lasal, Los Herreros 29, 30 – 45 EUR • Traditional Cuisine

How to get to?

The city is served by the Zamora Railway Station, located on one of the Spanish North-Northwestern high speed lines. All major Spanish bus companies and some local companies operate out of the Estación de Autobuses de Zamora, which connects Zamora to neighboring cities, such as Salamanca, as well as nearby pueblos, major cities such as Valladolid and Madrid, and further destinations around Spain and Europe.

Distance by car to other main cities of Castile and León and Madrid

Madrid 2 hr 40 min (254 km) via AP-6 and A-6

Valladolid 1 hr 16 min (102 km) via A-11

Ávila 1 hr 48 min (178 km) via A-66 and A-50

Burgos 2 hr 15 min (226 km) via A-11 and A-62

Palencia 1 hr 32 min (149 km) via A-11 and A-62

León 1 hr 29 min (142 km) via A-66

Salamanca 49 min (66.2 km) via A-66

Segovia 2 hr 4 min (190 km) via A-11, A-6 and CL-605

Soria 3 hr 32 min (305 km) via A-11

Main information

Area: 149 sq. km

GPS coordinates: 41°30′12″N 5°45′20″W

Language: Spanish

Population: 60 988

Currency: Euro

Visa: Schengen

Time: Central European UTC +1, in summer +2

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