Pamplona has a charm that is difficult to forget. It is a simple city that is both ancient and modern. With barely 196,000 inhabitants, it boasts an excellent life style with no bottlenecks, smoke and with good health care services. The new quarters are really attractive with all the facilities close by, but the nucleus of social and commercial life is set in the beautiful old part of the city.
Its origin dates back to the years 75-74 before Christ when the Roman general Pompeyo camped in this area, which was already a settlement of indigenous Basques, and founded the Roman city of Pompaelo.
Tour of Pamplona
From the Plaza del Castillo square, go down Chapitela street to the Town hall square – Plaza del Ayuntamiento – with its Baroque façade, where the rockets are fired in the San Fermin festivals. Above the mythical slope of Santo Domingo, you will find the magnificent Museum of Navarre. On the slope, a small niche in the wall marks the spot where San Fermin receives the chants of the runners before the bull running. Following the bull route, pass by the Town Hall and the famous bend of Mercaderes. Move off the route and head up the street Calle Curia until you reach the great Gothic cathedral and the Diocesan Museum. Next to the Cathedral, the beautiful and withdrawn square of the Plaza de San José culminates in a delightful corner: a narrow alleyway separating two houses joined together by a high covered corridor. Behind this is the Bastion of el Redín and the famous medieval inn the Caballo Blanco.
Following the ramparts, you will come to the Portal de Francia, the gateway where the Pilgrims on the Way of St James come into the city. Return along the street Calle del Carmen and up the street of Estafeta, the bull route. There you will find the house of the Itúrbide and the 18C Palace of the Goyeneche. At the end there is the bull ring and the monument to the North American writer, Hemingway, who made the San Fermin festivals famous with his book “Fiesta”. The avenue of Carlos III is dominated by the Monument to the Dead (Monumento de los Caídos) at the far end, by the Gayarre Theatre and the neo-classic Palace of Navarre or Government building. It was constructed in 1851 by José de Nagusia and has a beautiful Throne Room. Next to the façade by the Paseo Sarasate is the elegant Archives of Navarre and the very old red wood tree standing tall in its garden. In the Paseo Sarasate, the Monumento a los Fueros, the monument to the Charter of Navarre, was erected in 1903.
It symbolises the privileges of Navarre and its own law. Close by, stands the pretty 13C church-fortress of San Nicolás. Behind it, the street San Miguel leads to the delightful square of San Francisco. Next to this, in the Calle Ansoleaga, is the Cámara de Comptos Reales the Royal Treasury, and at the end, the church of San Cernin or San Saturnino. There you can see the “little well” where San Cernin baptised the first people from Navarre, amongst them San Fermin. It has a pretty 18c porch, portal and tympanum.In the street Calle Mayor you can enjoy looking at the Ezpeleta palace. Finish in the Church of San Lorenzo, the adored chapel of San Fermin and the square of Recoletas.
Opposite, you will find one of the most pretty gardens in Pamplona: the Taconera. Go out onto the Avenida del Ejército and you will reach the charming Vuelta del Castillo a green area around the Ciudadela or Citadel, with well preserved ramparts in the shape of a star with pointed bastions. Inside the citadel there are various cultural exhibitions.
The Plaza del Castillo (Square)
Everyone from Navarre, whether born there or not, professes a particular fondness for the Plaza del Castillo.
Numerous generations have celebrated the fiestas here, the summer afternoons and the Sunday mornings under its porches. Like the centre of a spider’s web, all the narrow and busy streets of the old part of Pamplona lead off from the square.
Construction began on the square in 1651 and it was given its name because it was formerly a spot close to the former fortress of Luis Hutín where tournaments and even bull fights were held. Construction of the square finalised in the 18C and bull fights continued to be held there until 1844.
Now, as in earlier times, life revolves around the Plaza del Castillo. The beautiful mosaic in the square is the scene for different generations to meet and chat, share opinions and find out what is happening in our Navarre. It is called the “Living Room of Pamplona” and there is no doubt that people are comfortable there. It is a nice experience to go up to the kiosk right in the centre of the square and look right round each of the houses making up the square. Almost all were built in the 18C, their balconies, turrets, attics, large windows...
Beforehand, until 1910, instead of the kiosk there was a fountain designed by Luis Paret with the statue of Abundance “La Mari Blanca” which is now located in the gardens of the Taconera. This square with porches, houses bustling terraces and cafés which have barely changed since their inauguration in 1931 and which are the delight of the visitors.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria La Real of Pamplona
The Cathedral of Pamplona is impressive yet deceptive. Looking at the neo-classic façade reconstructed by Ventura Rodríguez in 1783 you tend to imagine a cold cathedral. This is nothing further from the truth. Its gothic interior is profoundly welcoming.
The Cathedral, and its towers in particular, are the city emblem. It began as a Romanesque edifice in the 12C until it was destroyed during the war of the Navarrería. Of this period, the Museum of Navarre still preserves some beautiful capitals and the present gothic cathedral still maintains the chapel of San Jesucristo. In 1394 the work started and it was completed in 1472. Currently, its Latin cross floor plan with three naves, side chapels and front part with chapels shows the magnificent result of recent restoration work which finalised in 1994: delicate stained glass windows, an exquisite polychrome painting and elaborate carpentry have all been renovated.
The French Gothic cloisters receive the most praise, and are some of the most beautiful in Europe. You will marvel at the sensation of harmony and peace they give. Note the richness of their arches, large windows and relief work... Its corridors framed by six pointed arches, the Amparo and Precious cloister doorways, the archivolts and their geometric and figurative decoration are worthy of admiration.
Also the peculiar Barbazana chapel is particularly pleasing, with an eight point starred tracery vault, and the tomb of Carlos III the Noble and Doña Leonor, the resting place of the kings, reclining vertically and with a long tunic and crown. Very close, the Romanesque silver plated image of Santa María la Real.
The Diocesan museum is located in the cathedral itself. The entrance is via the Calle Dormitalería. Here there are religious images, gothic and renaissance altar pieces, silver work and religious objects. You can also admire a pretty Rococo sacristy, a 16C Chapel of Music, gothic altar pieces of Santo Cristo, Santo Tomás and San Juan Evangelista, the Crucifix of Juan Bazcardo and the Christ of Anchieta.
Also, next to the Cathedral, don’t miss the delightful Square of San José!