Most visitors to Zamora, population 66,000, stop in at the Semana Santa Museum, which masterfully presents the Passion in a way guaranteed to stir one’s soul. The magnificent expressions on the life-size figures cause visitors to experience the Passion in a new, deeper way. The numerous representations of Mary also allow one to glimpse the Passion through a mother’s eyes.
Zamora is also known as a major stop along Spain’s Vía de la Plata pilgrimage trail, which runs from Seville in the south to Santiago de Compostela in the northwest, where the body of the apostle Santiago (St. James) is buried beneath the city’s cathedral.
But the city’s biggest claim to fame is its showcase of Romanesque churches. Zamora has 24 such structures tucked into its narrow, winding streets — more than any other spot in Europe, which is pretty impressive for such a modest-sized city. The churches are generally open to the public and free. And, best of all, given how few Spaniards are regular churchgoers today, many offer daily Mass.
Here are some Zamoran churches you won’t want to miss:
Cathedral of Zamora
Naturally, you can’t miss the city’s stunning cathedral. Perched on a rocky hill overlooking the pretty Duero River, it was built between 1151 and 1174 and has a fortress-like appearance: a scaled dome (also the city symbol) and just one square-based bell tower. Inside are three naves, a transept and three semicircular apses.
As you stroll through, make sure to look at the choir stalls, considered unique works of art, plus the richly decorated chapels.
There’s also an impressive, gilded silver altar from 1723 that’s considered an outstanding example of cathedral silverware. And don’t overlook the beautiful oil murals painted directly onto the stone walls.
The cathedral also boasts a small museum that shouldn’t be missed. The museum features incredible Flemish tapestries from the 15th and 16th centuries, plus some of the most beautiful religious sculptures and artwork you’ll see (open daily; 4 euros).
San Pedro and San Ildefonso
After the cathedral, San Pedro and San Ildefonso is considered Zamora’s largest and grandest church. Although the 12th-century building has undergone many changes over the centuries, it still contains one of its biggest treasures: the 16th-century Flemish triptych, kept in the sacristy, that King Charles I gave to the church during his visit in 1522. Don’t miss the church’s ornate and vibrantly hued door or its gorgeous Marian statue (closed Monday; free).
San Claudio de Olivares
This tiny church near the river is considered Zamora’s very first, built in the early 12th century. Although it’s a relatively plain structure, look for the sculptural accents on the interior columns and in the archivolts of the portico (the arched doorway you pass through). The latter carvings represent an agricultural calendar, noting the tasks to be performed each month (closed Tuesday; free).
Santiago del Burgo
A small, narrow church sitting just outside of Zamora’s Old Town, the Church of Santiago del Burgo is the only one in the city that still boasts its original layout of three naves of varying heights, divided into four sections. The church was built in the late 12th century and features colorful representations of Santiago above the altar (closed Monday; free).
Melanie Radzicki McManus writes from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.