Pamplona was known in Roman times as Pompeo’s city, after its founder. The fortress city lived its greatest splendour between the 10th and 16th century when it was capital of the kingdom of Navarra. Nowadays, Pamplona is best known for the bull race held every year in July, an event that captured the heart of Ernest Hemingway.
Sightseeing in Pamplona
The Plaza del Castillo – the focal point of the city.
The Palacio de Navarra – with an opulent throne room, lies on the Plaza del Castillo.
The 13th century Church of San Nicolas – reached from the square through the Paseo de Sarasate.
The Ciudadela – built for Philip II during the 6th century.
The Cathedral – 4th century, not far from the walls, now features an 18th century facade by the neo-classical architect Ventura Rodriguez. Inside are two tombs of Charles III, king of Navarra, and his wife Eleonara.
The Ayuntamiento – the Baroque town hall.
The Museo de Navarra – housed in a 6th century hospital. Contains the archaelogy, history and art of Navarra and Spain, a collection of paintings by Basque artists and Goya’s portrait of the Marquis de San Adrian.
The Running of the Bull
Folklore and tradition intertwine every year in the streets of Pamplona for this spectacular event. The Encierro (bull race) is the climax of the Fiesta de Los Sanfermines, celebrated every year between the 6th and 14th of July. For just over a week, the normally tranquil city is in turmoil; eight days of singing, dancing, merriment and challenging bulls.
While the excited crowd becomes delirious, six bulls are released into the streets of the old part of the city, where they chase courageous Sanfermines who pray to their patron saint for protection. The fiesta has fundamentally religious origins where throngs of worshippers flank a solemn procession that takes the statue of San Firmino from one church to another. The last night of the fiesta is one of intense emotion when everybody goes to the main square to sing folksongs.
Ernest Hemingway’s Spain
Ernest Hemingway (1898-1961), the American novelist and journalist, was linked to Spain by a fine web over the years. Having an unquenchable thirst for adventure and discovery he participated in the Spanish Civil War as a correspondent and did not hesitate to join the anti-francoist ranks.
Though Hemingway dedicated one of his masterpieces, For Whom The Bell Tolls (1940), to the Civil War, it was another aspect of Spanish life that completely seduced him – bullfighting and bulls. He looked upon this confrontation between man and bull, as the struggle man has to face day after day in the bullring of life. On account of this, he dedicated his essay-novel, Death In The Afternoon (1932), to the bullfight, its heroes and traditions. The extraordinary atmosphere sensed in the streets of Pamplona during the bull race had already been highlighted in The Sun Also Rises (1926), also known as Fiesta. ‘The Fiesta had really begun. It went on, day and night, for seven days. The dancing went on, drinking went on, and the noise never stopped for a week. The things that happened could only happen during a fiesta. Everything became unreal and it seemed that nothing could have any consequence.’