Zaragoza has two cathedrals, virtually side by side. Both of them are staggering in their opulence and their craftsmanship but the Basilica of the Virgin of the Pillar is somewhat larger than La Sea. The pillar in question is one which the Virgin Mary is said to have alighted on in a vision of St James (I think). My guidebook said this very pillar was in the Basilica and that the faithful were prone to crowding round it with a view to touching it. I couldn't find a pillar with a virgin on top of it but I did see a small 'window' through which – to my astonishment – people were urged to kiss a bit of the true pillar. And to contribute some coins.
There was also a museum of tapestries in La Sea, provoking the thought – What on earth is the Catholic Church doing retaining these when they should be in a lay museum? Anyway, I passed up the opportunity to see the Treasury, as I know from experience how stuffed these are with gold, silver and jewelled pieces that could be put to rather better use than demonstrating the (useless) wealth of the Church.
Another question which occurred to me as I walked round slack-jawed at the splendour of the places – Why did it take God so long to make himself known to Man? I mean, He first told the Jews about Himself about 3,000 years ago – I'm guessing – and then he came down to kick off the Christian church 2,000 years ago. Then the Muslims 1300 years ago; the Bahais about 500 years ago and then, more recently people like the Mormons, the Christian Scientists, etc. etc. This is quite a lot of revealing in the past 3,000 years, compared with very little in the previous 197,000 years of human existence. I mean, the Greeks weren't given the honour of revelation. Neither were the Romans. Or the Zaroastrians. To quote a few. So, what's going on? Why did God decide to go into overdrive after many, many thousands of years of inactivity? And why did He do it in such a way that all sorts of people think they have a different God to everyone else? And, in some cases, believe this to be sufficient reason to slaughter them? Doesn't exactly shout clarity of revelation, does it? Or perhaps it does, if you read both the Old Testament and the Koran. Personally, I have God down as a bit of (cosmic) joker. With a sadistic streak. And a fair bit of masochism in the case of The Son.
Anyway, as an ex-Catholic, ex-Deist, ex-Agnostic and now fully-fledged Atheist, I don't consider it my job to answer these metaphysical questions. But I'd be interested in the answers of others.
Zaragoza also boasts a remarkable fort – El Aljafería – which originally served the Muslim rulers of this part of Aragón, then later their Christian conquerers. Who, naturally, destroyed most of the beautiful mezquita, or mosque, installed inside the fort. But enough is left of the original artistry to give one an idea of what a stunning place it must have been.
Zaragoza is an elegant city and they really want you to stay. Putting this another way, they make it hard for you to leave. There are none of the usual signs to nearby cities or autopistas. Nor the ubiquitous Todas Direcciones sign. In fact, there's nothing in the centre of the city to guide you out of it. Meaning that I and my satnav had a most frustrating time trying to exit. Especially the satnav. Which, being in Spanish, doesn't say anything like “U-Turn” when I need it to. By the time I figure out it's given me a long-winded Spanish alternative, I'm past the place where I should have made the turn.
In contrast, Palencia – where I am tonight – makes it hard for you to find either the city centre or any hotels. There's one of those little concentric circles signs for the centre as you enter the place and then zilch until half a frustrating hour later you chance upon it and some yellow signs for hotels. By this time you've negotiated about a thousand sets of traffic lights and are ready for bed.
And things are not helped by the fact the sign to your hotel is completely masked by tree branches, as I told the receptionist on checking in.
Finally . . . The word 'Gothic' is used today to designate a particular architectural style, inter alia. But I think I'm right in saying it originally meant 'ugly'. I suspect in relation to the Romanesque style which preceded it. Someone can always check on Wikipedia.