Zaragoza, the destination that is the cradle of Spanish cinema

Many people remember the first films made by the Lumière brothers at the end of the 19th century. “La sortie des ouvriers des usines Lumière à Lyon” (1895) was the first film to be shown, thus initiating the path of what would become the seventh art. However, few remember that the first surviving film shot in Spain was in Zaragoza, in 1899: “Salida de misa de doce del Pilar de Zaragoza” by the Aragonese Eduardo Jimeno Correas, making the Aragonese capital the cradle of Spanish cinema.

After so many years, Zaragoza continues to be a reference point for filming. If you think that Zaragoza is much more than just a pretty picture of the Pilar, we encourage you to confirm it differently, through successful series and films whose shootings have chosen this city as a backdrop.

Six routes to discover the most cinematographic Zaragoza

Is it possible to find a route that integrates the main filming locations into a sightseeing tour? The answer is yes. Zaragoza Film Office proposes six film routes to visit the most emblematic places in the city, while you discover some of the most juicy anecdotes related to filming.

The Film Office suggests dividing your visit into six routes around the most famous areas of the city. To begin with, it seems difficult to find a better place to start than the Plaza del Pilar, next to the famous Basilica. This is where that first film was shot in 1899 showing the city’s residents leaving mass, but it’s also where scenes from director Nacho García Velilla’s hilarious comedy “Que se mueran los feos” were filmed in 2010.

Along with the Pilar, the other emblem of the city is the river Ebro. Its two banks are connected by the city’s most famous bridge, the Puente de Piedra (Stone Bridge). This bridge, which dates from the 15th century and forms the best known image of Zaragoza, with the city in the background, articulates the second film route. This iconic place has also been the setting for numerous productions, including one of the most recent ones: “El último show” (2020), by Aragón TV, a series about the mythical Spanish comic character Marianico “El Corto”.

View of the Basílica del Pilar from the Ebro / Zaragoza Film Office

The historic quarter, also known as the “old town”, is the third route and is home to most of the city’s monuments, as well as its most famous tapas area: the “Tubo”. The historic city still occupies the same space as it did in medieval times, and strolling through its streets gives us a good sample of the essence of Zaragoza. There is a recent film, where we can see this part of the city like no other. It is “Las niñas” (2020), directed by Pilar Palomero. Both the film and its director have won four Goya awards: Best Film, Best New Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography. It also won the Biznaga de Oro at the Malaga Festival, among other awards.

Leaving the old quarter, Paseo Independencia is the city’s main shopping street. The fourth route runs along this street and its surroundings, between two of the city’s most emblematic squares: Aragón and España. This avenue became famous in Miguel Ángel Lamata’s film “Una de zombis” (2004). On this occasion, the Aragonese capital was immortalized through an iconoclastic parody of the genre, where we saw the Paseo Independencia full of the living dead wandering around. The same director from Zaragoza returned to the city centre to shoot “Nuestros amantes” (2016), a fun romance between Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and Irene (Michelle Jenner).

Scene of “Our Lovers” in Alfonso I Street / Zaragoza Film Office

The fifth route takes us to one of the city’s most important monuments, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986: the Aljafería Palace. Although the route includes locations in the surrounding area, it is the Palace that is the focus of attention. This building of Mudejar origin is one of the most notable works of Muslim art on the Iberian Peninsula, along with the Alhambra in Granada. Today it houses the Aragonese Parliament. It is precisely its Caliphate architecture that has made this palace the ideal setting for some of the scenes in the historical series “El Cid” (2020).

The last route takes us a little further away from the centre, to the Valdespartera neighbourhood, a very cinematographic neighbourhood, as all its streets are related to the seventh art. This area was the location for the filming of the Hollywood classic “Solomon and the Queen of Sheba” (1959), directed by King Vidor. The super-production, as well as transforming the outskirts of Zaragoza into Egypt, made its protagonists fill its streets with glamour. The film starred Gina Lollobrigida and Tyrone Power, who died during filming, leaving Yul Briner to take over.

Scene from “El Cid” filmed in the Aljafería/ Amazon Studios

The truth is that it is always a good time to plan a getaway to the capital of the Ebro river. In addition to Zaragoza’s historical and artistic heritage, there is also culture and art in its various forms of expression, which is very present in the city. Dance festivals, theatre, urban art, markets and craft fairs, concerts, street entertainment, and much more, which you can enjoy at any time of the year.

Zaragoza, a permanent date with the seventh art

Zaragoza honours its long cinematographic tradition by programming various activities throughout the year. This is an excellent option to considering enjoying a visit in every sense of the word.

The year begins with Aragón Negro in January, a prestigious film noir festival. In May, the Ecozine Film Festival is held, with the aim of showing and disseminating fiction, animation and documentary films with environmental themes. Summer hosts the Fil-Nic, an open-air cinema and picnic experience, which is organized between July and August. In October, the International Exhibition of Films Made by Women takes place, and in November the Zaragoza Film Festival arrives.

Cinema, history, culture and gastronomy. A cocktail that is hard to match is what awaits you in the Aragonese capital. Although you may already know the city from previous visits, the truth is that it is worth coming back and making a trip to live the cinematographic experience on this occasion. Don’t forget that Zaragoza Film Office works all year round to continue making the city a filming destination that, through fiction, reveals an exceptional tourist destination. Don’t think twice and start planning your trip!

By Victor Cervelló

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