Sightseeing in Pamplona
After hearing so much about Pamplona, some people are dismayed when they actually get to the city and realize there aren’t all that many things to see. Others may be relieved to known that within an hour or two the hard work we tourists take on for ourselves can be completed, leaving the rest of the day to get acquainted with the interesting medieval streets of Pamplona’s Casco Antiguo.
The old quarter sits astride the Río Arga in the northwestern quadrant of town. While not as ornate and spotless as the wide streets of old Salamanca, or as colorful as Córdoba or Segovia, Pamplona’s compact mess of narrow, bricked streets has its own understated appeal. Small, traditional eateries are sandwiched between dive bars, Belle Époque cafés and fancy boutique shops. In the Plaza del Castillo, the focal point of the Casco Antiguo, you may be witness to an impromptu game of Coke can soccer or the dismal but usually entertaining singing of a busker.
Surrounded by trees, the Plaza de Toros is two blocks southeast of the plaza on the only side of the Casco Antiguo that isn’t surrounded by a green belt. To the west are the parks of Larraina, La Taconera and the manicured grounds of the Ciudadela’s Vuelta del Castillo. North, between the river and the old quarter, the Parque de Santo Domingo marks the spot where the fighting bulls begin their charge south to the Plaza de Toros each year during Sanfermines.
In the east, the Parque de Tejería greets pilgrims as they cross the Puente de La Magdalena and chart their own course west through the Casco Antiguo in what is the initial phase of a very long walk to Santiago de Compostela.
Freestanding in the Plaza Consistorial, Pamplona’s elegant Baroque town hall is an emblem of the city’s governance and, for at least one day each year, its anarchic side. On the first day of Sanfermines revelers crowd into the plaza in front of the town hall and with window-shattering buzz wait for its clock to strike 12 noon. When it does, the mayor emerges onto the balcony and fires a rocket into the air, officially marking the beginning of what has been called Europe’s wildest party.
Catedral & Iglesias
The city’s Catedral is backed by a hill of trees on the eastern limits of the Casco Antiguo. Its sand-colored Neoclassical façade conceals a mostly Gothic temple begun in the 14th century and completed 200 years later. Before the main altarpiece, the lifelike figures carved into two alabaster tombs represent the remains of King Carlos III of Navarra and his wife Doña Navarra, both eternally asleep in prayer. The Catedral’s claustro (cloister) is of particular note, an ornate square of Franco-Gothic style rated one of the finest of its kind in Europe. From it, a gate leads to the refectory and Museo Diocesano, housing a collection of religious articles and paintings spanning the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque periods.
The city’s other historical churches are also on the perimeter of the Casco Antiguo. In the west, the Plaza Recoletas separates the Convento de Recoletas from the Iglesia de San Lorenzo. It contains the Baroque capilla (chapel) of the city’s patron saint and impetus for its famous festival, Sanfermines.
On the southern edge of the Casco Antiguo off the Paseo Sarasate is the 13th-century Iglesia de San Nicolás, the only one of Pamplona’s religious sites to maintain its truly Romanesque design. This architectural movement, the name for which indicates its fundamentally Roman stylistic and structural cues, came to influence many of northern Spain’s monuments built during the centuries leading up to the Middle Ages. Throughout these northern regions, and particularly in the city of Pamplona, later Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical renovations have largely obscured the original style.
Museo de Navarra The former hospital once had an attractive plateresque façade. Today it houses the city’s museum, displaying regional relics from prehistoric times to more recent history. Along with a neat set of Roman mosaics, the painting of the Marquis de San Adrián by Francisco de Goya and a Hispano-Arabic ivory casket are its greatest treasures.
Designed to secure the city from foreign invaders, the citadel was begun in 1571 under the reign of King Felipe II over the site of an earlier castle. The pentagonal-shaped defensive fortification was modeled on a similar one in Antwerp, though two of its original five star-shaped bulwarks have since disappeared. The Parque Vuelta del Castillo surrounds the citadel. To access the park and fortress, which are shrouded by trees and further concealed by a massive wall, head to the huge gate on Calle Chinchilla.
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