The Sanfermines, the pinchos and the running of the bulls. Pamplona is all that. But it is much more. The capital of Navarre has a lot to offer the visitor, beyond the clichés, which are also very much alive and very present in the daily life of its inhabitants.
The city of Pamplona has a rich past, which is reflected in its monuments, from its cathedral and its walls to its historic cafes and, of course, its bars full of pinchos. Everything seems to be part of the same frame erected for the pleasure of passers-by, whether they are tourists, pilgrims, wine lovers or gothicists. Everyone has a place in this city.
The ancient medieval walls that surrounded the city are still standing, in a collection of bastions and forts that elevate the imagination. The portal of France is the only one of the six original doors which is preserved in its place and with the same original aspect. It has retained its drawbridge and chain system.
The visitor can cover almost the entire old route of the enclosure, stopping at the various defensive bastions and admiring monuments such as the Royal Palace, the former palace of the Kings of Navarre, from the 12th century and remodeled in 2003 by Rafael Monéo. From different points of view you can admire the city built later, outside the walls, and the passage of the Arga river.
alleys and palaces
Intramuros, the city of Pamplona is a hive of narrow streets, squares, churches and Renaissance and Baroque mansions. The Plaza del Castillo is an epicenter where everyone who passes by converges. Its volumes offer cozy terraces and, in the middle, a gazebo presides over the space, offering a 360-degree view of the colorful facades.
This square is truly the heart of the city. Tournaments, markets, political rallies and even bullfights were held here until 1844. Its name comes from the castle that was built here between the 14th and 16th centuries to defend itself from neighbours.
Three opposing cities
And it is that Pamplona, as we know it now, was not such. In reality, it was made up of three medieval cities, openly confronted with the control of wealth and the passage of merchants and pilgrims. The first was that of Navarrería, the first inhabitants, dedicated to agricultural work.
Pamplona was made up of 3 medieval cities facing each other for the control of wealth and the passage of merchants and pilgrims
Later, under the protection of the Camino de Santiago, and with the help that the King of Navarre offered for the repopulation, the town of San Cernin was born, mainly with artisans and merchants. Later the nucleus of San Nicolás was formed. Each of them was fully walled and separated from neighbors by moats and ravines.
From now on, these three cities are united and it is difficult for the visitor to imagine the imaginary border which separates them. You can let yourself be guided by the churches: that of San Saturnino or San Cernin, the patron saint of Pamplona, is one of the most important. It is a 13th century Gothic temple with an arcaded atrium which once had a defensive function. It houses the baroque chapel of the Virgen del Camino, also patroness of the city. In front of the church, you can admire the Nativity scene of Portalapea, a remnant of the medieval structure (a nativity scene is a narrow street) of the village of San Cernín.
The Church of San Nicolás, on the other hand, is a 12th century church-fortress in the Romanesque style. It is an impressive building with a cozy interior with remnants of medieval frescoes. After many internal wars, in 1423 the definitive peace was signed, and in the no man’s land, where the three boroughs converged, the town hall was built.
Palates and points
Walking through the streets you can admire many facades of stately homes, former residences of marquises and counts and convents and institutions of religious orders that were installed after the Castilian conquest in 1512.
And on the ground floor, modern palaces: tapas bars, pinchos, rations, potato omelettes, steaks, peppers, cod… In the rectangle that forms from Paseo de Sarasate to Cuesta de Tanners, the number of places where one can give free rein to the pleasures of the palate. It is difficult to decide between the large number of restaurants and bars that offer all kinds of delicacies. San Nicolás, San Miguel, San Gregorio and San Antón streets are among the busiest… There must be a reason for that.
The festivities of San Fermín, with its daily bullfight, are a must in the city. This tradition has survived the passage of time and is famous all over the world. One of the personalities who contributed to its popularization abroad is Ernest Hemingway.
Hemingway put a good part of his novel ‘Fiesta’ at Café Iruña
The North American writer was fascinated by the Sanfermines and frequently visited Pamplona. And there he took his drinks – alcoholic or not – in the historic Café Iruña, located in the Plaza del Castillo and founded in 1888. Hemingway placed a good part of his novel there. To party. It is a modernist café, the opening of which served to inaugurate the arrival of electric light in the city. It is worth visiting its interior or having a coffee on its terrace.
The road to containment
One of the most curious activities in Pamplona is to follow, on foot, the entire route that the bulls take during the bullfight. It starts from the gas corralillos, the modernly built corrals where the herds that participate in the bullfight are kept. There was a gasworks there in the 19th century. Crossing the river on the Rochapea bridge, you reach the corralillos of Santo Domingo, the place where the bulls sleep at night before coming out to run through the narrow streets of Pamplona.
The course of the running of the bulls continues along the slope of Santo Domingo, the first section that the bulls run. There is the niche with the image of San Fermín in front of which the runners sing a prayer before standing in front of the mass of running bulls. This street leads to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, whose balcony is launched the Chupinazo, which marks the beginning of the festivities of San Fermín.
The town hall is probably one of the most photographed buildings in Pamplona, with its facade where baroque and neoclassical intertwine. In the Plaza del Ayuntamiento and in other places along the route, there are fragments of the wooden fences that are placed from July 7 to guide the course of the bulls and protect those watching from behind. The photo is mandatory.
From the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, the bulls in the running of the bulls make a 90 degree curve to enter the famous Calle Estafeta. This curve often causes bulls to slip and is one of the most dangerous points on the course. The bullfight continues along Estafeta street until the bulls enter the bullring, the second largest in Spain.
By the way, the Chapel of San Fermín is located in the Church of San Lorenzo, with a Greek cross plan and domes with an immense geometric game. There are always visitors who come to pray and make their offerings.
Pilgrims of the Way
Pamplona is also a place of passage for the pilgrim route on the Camino de Santiago. Walkers cross the Arga River through the Magdalena Bridge and officially enter the city through the Portal de Francia. The first thing the pilgrim sees is the Redín bastion, with its impassable wall. Imagine what the pilgrim would feel when arriving in front of such a construction, with sore feet and protecting themselves from the cold.
The cathedral, whose silhouette can already be seen from the orchards before crossing the river, is an obligatory passage for pilgrims and where, in addition, they can obtain the stamp of their title of Compostela. Santa María la Real was built in the 14th and 15th centuries on the site of a Romanesque temple.
The cathedral has an imposing central nave and one of the finest Gothic cloisters in the world
Its neoclassical facade does not do justice to the great beauty of the interior of the temple, with an imposing central nave and a Gothic cloister considered one of the most beautiful in the world. In the center of the nave stand out the two tombs of Carlos III and Leonor de Trastámara. It is a funerary monument entirely in alabaster, with figures that stand out for their realism. In addition to the two recumbent figures, in the lower part is a whole series of small sculptures of weeping figures -mourning the death of kings- whose precision and detail impress the visitor.
The pilgrimage route continues along Calle Mayor, flanked by Baroque and Renaissance palaces, which have established themselves as the main axis of the San Cernin district for the passage of walkers. The Camino de Santiago Interpretation Center, Ultreia, is located in this street, a space dedicated to the knowledge and dissemination of the Jacobean route.
Pilgrims leave the city through the Parque de la Ciudadela, a huge fortification built in the 16th century in the shape of a pentagon with five bastions at the corners. It is considered the best example of Spanish Renaissance military architecture.
Old and modern parks
Very close to the citadel are the Taconera Gardens. It is the oldest park in Pamplona and one of the most romantic and exotic areas of the city. It is home to exotic species of plants and trees, such as the giant sequoia, and deer, ducks and peacocks roam semi-freedom in its moat. This is the place where families with their children traditionally go to take a moment of tranquility between the hustle and bustle of the alleys and the traffic.
On the outskirts, the modern Yamaguchi Park stands out, designed by Japanese landscape designers in 1997. It is built in the purest Japanese style and houses the Galaxy Garden, a scale replica of the Milky Way made up of more than 500 bushes that represent its stars. and other components, including a black hole.
On the outskirts, stands out the modern park of Yamaguchi, designed by Japanese landscapers in 1997