Expats moving to Zaragoza, a city in the northeast of Spain, are mostly drawn by the highly regarded University of Zaragoza (also known as Saragossa University), one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world. Zaragoza itself was capital of the Kingdom of Aragon and still retains many architectural treasures from this glorious past. Expats tend to enjoy how this sense of history is balanced with the modern conveniences of a world-class and cosmopolitan city.
Zaragoza may not be as well-known to expats as Madrid, Barcelona or Seville, but with nearly a million inhabitants and a lot of changes in the last few years, this provincial city is growing in prominence and size. 2008 was the year of the EXPO, the international exhibition, themed around water, a much-needed resource in this desert-surrounded city. Three new bridges were built for the occasion, as well as the ultra-modern Water Tower, an outdoor amphitheatre for summer concerts, and the extensive Luis Buñuel Park which provides a huge green recreational area along the banks of the mighty Ebro River.
Alongside this modern architecture and a new high-tech tram system, Zaragoza has an incredible Basilica, held dear by people from all over Spain. It’s known as ‘El Pilar’ for the pillar on which the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared. Indeed, expats in Zaragoza will notice how many women are named ‘Pilar’, in honour of this historic religious site.
Zaragoza’s history stretches back two millennia, to the first expat visitors, evidenced by the many surviving Roman walls and ruins, which include an impressive amphitheatre that was discovered and carefully excavated in the 1980s and is now a museum.
Expats may find it difficult to initially settle in due to the language difficulties, sluggish bureaucracy and the insular community. Those who overcome these obstacles, however, get to enjoy a more relaxing, simpler and sunnier way of life. To help, there is a vibrant and welcoming expat community. Another source of welcome and social interaction are the many Spanish people who are interested in practising their English or getting to know new residents.
Moving to Zaragoza offers a range of other advantages, too. For starters, it’s very safe and has cheaper and better accommodation than the bigger cities. There are also plenty of opportunities to find work teaching privately or in a private language school. Native speakers of English can find work fairly easily. Maños (people from Zaragoza) know they need to improve their English to increase their job prospects and so native speakers are in great demand.
Zaragoza is also very well-situated to explore Spain. It’s halfway between Madrid and Barcelona, and both cities can be reached in three hours by car or an hour and a half on the AVE (high-speed train). Two hours to the north is the Pyrenees, offering a multitude of activities, like hiking, skiing, snowboarding, abseiling, caving, camping and paragliding. Beaches on each coast can be reached within two to three hours, and there are many picturesque villages along the way with cobbled lanes, monasteries and castles to be explored.