Calatayud was first founded by the Romans, but they abandoned the city in the 2nd century AD, and it stood empty until the Moors conquered Spain in the 8th century. They built the city up, and you can still easily see the heavy Moorish influence in the architecture. Later, when the Catholics conquered Spain, some of the Moors were allowed to remain in calatayud, though they were treated badly.
The 14th and 15th century church towers in Calatayud are very reminiscent of minarets, typical of Moorish architecture.
What to Do
Calatayud's primary attractio is the Santa Maria la Mayor, a church built of brick in the Aragonese style. It is unique in that it has a facade with Plateresque-Mudejar influence and a belfry that is octagonal in shape. The leaning tower of Calatayud is nearby at the Iglesia de San Pedro de los Francos. It, too, shows the Mudejar influence.
You can find more excellent examples of Mudejar architecture by walking around. The Calle Union will take you to La Parraguia de San Andres, which has an excellent Mudejar belfry. If you go through the old Moorish ghetto, a path will take you uphill to the castle ruins; these date back to when Calatayud was called Qal 'at Ayyub. From here, you have a marvelous view of the surrounding countryside.
To the east, a working archaeological dig is excavating Bilbilis, the Roman city that once stood here. This was the birthplace of Martial, the noted Roman satirist, and is located right next to the Merida-Zaragoza highway.
Where to Stay
The Hostal Las Rumbas is near the joining of the rivers Mesa, Ortiz, and Piedra, and from here you can view the beautiful cascades and waterfalls in the natural park of the Monastery de Piedra.
The Hospederia Meson de la Dolores, once a 15th century Aragonese palace, today is a classically beautiful hotel set in the countryside. With generous-sized rooms, large bathrooms with deep tubs, and lovely views, the price is unbelievably low. Calatayud is known for wines, and this hotel has a museum of wine on site. And the restaurant in the hotel is known throughout the region as an excellent place to dine.
The Hotel Calatayud, just to the east in the N-II highway, is a little cheaper than the Hospederia, but the rooms are much more ordinary, with simple furnishings, good beds, and clean private bathrooms. You'll find a restaurant and a bar on site.
Just outside of town, a renovated Benedictine monastery has been transformed into the Husa Monasterio Benedictino. The rooms are clean, and you have access to a restaurant and bar here. The building is beautiful. The most attractive thing about this hotel, though, is that it's very near the Bilbilis ruins and the Monasterio de Piedra.