(719.5km, 500m, pop 196,000)
Latitude: 42.811663, Longitude: -1.648265
Pamplona (Iruña) is a compact city, its narrow cobbled streets seemingly squashed together to fit within its commanding walls. There’s very little modern building in the centre of the city, although there’s a fair bit of pro- and anti-eta graffiti to remind you of current Basque concerns. Pamplona was founded by Pompey, and the city’s cathedral is said to be built on the spot of the Roman capitol. Excavations of the cloister have discovered a market, forum and baths. Charlemagne razed Pamplona in 778, which goes a long way towards explaining the rout of his army and the death of Roland at the hands of the annoyed Basques.
Pamplona’s Gothic cathedral was begun in the late fourteenth century after the earlier Romanesque building collapsed in 1390. The present cathedral’s late-eighteenth- century façade stretches up in thick, solid, grey columns more in keeping with a grand mausoleum than a church. The façade is almost universally hated, although it’s actually quite impressive in a morose kind of way.
Among the cathedral’s highlights are the delicate, fifteenth-century alabaster tombs of Carlos III el Noble and his wife, Leonor, and the intricate Gothic cloister, with its glorious, appropriately named Puerta Preciosa (precious door). The kings of Navarra, many of whom were crowned in the cathedral, swore their oaths of allegiance to the laws of the land in front of the Romanesque, silvered Virgen del Sagrario, which is now in the main altar. The cathedral’s Museo Diocesano is worth a visit, particularly for the exquisite twelfth-century French reliquary. On a more prosaic note, you can also add to your sello collection in the cathedral by asking the priest to stamp your credencial.
The Museo de Navarra, near the cathedral on Calle Santo Domingo, is housed in a magnificent former hospice and contains a wealth of information about Pamplona’s history, including intricate Roman mosaics, and Romanesque capitals from the cathedral. If sport’s more your thing, head to Estadio de El Sadar, Osasuna’s football ground. The Pamplona club flits in and out of the Primera Liga, but it’s the nearest you’ll get to a top-class club on the camino.
Pamplona loses its head at the annual San Fermín festival from July 6 to 14. If you’ve seen pictures of the city before you arrive, it’s likely to be of the world-famous encierro, the running of the bulls that forms part of this festival. Each year, local men and male tourists race through Pamplona’s narrow streets pursued by drugged-to-the-eyeballs bulls; it’s a dangerous event in which tourists seem to be disproportionately among the gored. If you’re a woman, you’ll have to wait until the mixed Estella event on the first weekend in August for your slice of insanity. San Fermín, a 700-year tradition, is a week of processions, music, dancing, fireworks and drinking: apparently, three million litres of alcohol are consumed each year. Procession participants include gigantes (giant plaster puppets) and cabezudos, big-headed figures who attack onlookers with rubber sticks.
Accommodation & Information
- Jesús y Maria Calle Campañia 4(112 beds easter–oct )
- Casa PaderbornPlaya de Caparroso, 150m from the Puente de Magdalena; turn left after crossing the bridge on the way into Pamplona (28 beds easter–oct)
- There are many hotels too. To find out more visit the Pamplona Tourist Website
During San Fermín (see above), hotel prices triple and albergues usually close.