Alto de Perdon

we had lots of firsts on our hike from Pamplona to Puente la Reina, foremost being our first really sunny day. a good night’s sleep and wonderful breakfast at the Palacio Guendulain had us leaving a bit later than the previous two days, which made the day even more challenging.

leaving Pamplona we walked through the campus of the University of Navarra (you know, the one run by Opus Dei) into a valley where, apparently, the city used to hang felons convicted of theft. beyond the village of Cizur Menor are the ruins of the original Guendulain manor house dating from the 16th century. from here we started an increasingly steep climb up the mountainside, stopping briefly in Zariquiegui to catch our breaths and refill water sacks from the tap next to the church. it was on the ascent into Zariquiegui we saw our first rescue vehicle — a guarda civil followed shortly by some EMT-looking types — assisting someone who hadn’t prepared for the day’s climb or heat. just above the town there’s a fountain of legend — the story goes that the Devil appeared before an exhausted and thirsty peregrino and offered him water if he would renounce his faith; the peregrino refused and Santiago appeared and led him to the fountain that remains today where the Saint offered him a drink from a scallop shell.

a hermitage and basilica once stood at on the Puente de Perdón which ran a hospital for peregrinos that is documented to have functioned until at least 1816. the buildings no longer remain, replaced by a line of wind turbines along the ridge — a parque eólico — built in the region around Pamplona. in 1996, the association of friends of the Camino constructed an impressive and evocative monument to peregrinos in the gap of wind turbines along the ridge. both our guidebook and the cultural “handbook” I’m browsing now bemoan the change wrought by the turbines — adding their “pfoomp pfoomp” to “ruin” the peace of the Camino. I cannot agree on this count — the turbines are incredible feats of engineering to behold and this is by far the closest I’ve ever been to one. you see them frequently along the Camino and I found it a great reminder of how the Camino and peregrinos have changed over the centuries.

Palacio Guendulain

I hadn’t intended to mention our accommodations in Pamplona, but looking back through our photos I am reminded of how spectacular it was — character, comfort, and spectacular location. it was built in the 18th century by the Viceroy of Nueva Grenada and served as a family residence in the heart of old town for over two centuries. in 1845, Queen Isabella II took over the mansion for several days, converting it into a royal residence. more recently, the current Count of Guendulain had the mansion converted into a luxury hotel, as he resides in Madrid and presumably doesn’t need the whole place to himself (especially when it makes for a handy business proposition). there’s an 18th century carriage housed in the lobby on the first floor, as well as a collection of classic cars in the interior courtyard. while not the most comfortable beds we slept in or the most modern bathroom we got to enjoy, the bed and tub were quite comfy and the view into the interior courtyard was quite remarkable.

laundry time!

if you want to see more pictures, check out the Hotel Palacio Guendulain website. pretty remarkable.

Bulls in Pamplona

as probably everyone knows, bulls play a big part in popular perception of Pamplona — and Spain, really. despite the lunacy of the activity, the running of the bulls every July 6-14 draws massive crowds every year and is broadcast live by two national television stations. to participate in the encierro, participants dress in the traditional garb of the San Fermin festival: white shirt and pants with red waistband and neckerchief. they hold the day’s paper to distract the bull’s attention if necessary. the bulls are released from their corral at 8:00 a.m. every morning of the San Fermin festival, beginning on the 7th. the course is 908 yards long from corral to bullring, lined with wooden barricades where the width of the street allows for it, while elsewhere the buildings serve that purpose. bulls and humans run the course in about 4 minutes.

I couldn’t find information about number of participants per year, but between 200 and 300 people are injured each year, mostly with minor contusions. since 1910 (when records began), 15 people have died — most recently in 2009. most fatalities occurred in the bullring, which is only used during the 9 days of the San Fermin festival. contrary to what I recalled, bullfighting is still common throughout most of Spain, including in Pamplona during the San Fermin festival. the original structure dates from 1923 with an addition from the 1960s. if you don’t care about seeing the first one or two bulls, apparently you can get a good price from scalpers outside the bullring once fights have begun; otherwise tickets are very expensive.

while the encierro in Pamplona is by far the most famous, they occur throughout Spain and Portugal during the year, and even took place for 700 years in Stamford, England, before ending in 1837. the origins of the tradition are hazy, though likely arise from young hotshots deciding to show off their prowess by joining bulls as they ran from corral to bullring for bullfights, or from corral to some other location. the San Fermin festival itself evolved from several festivals including that of San Fermin, who is the patron saint of Pamplona and Navarra, the bullfighting festival, and other commercial festivals.

the walled city of Pamplona

of all the medium-to-large sized cities we walked through, nothing compared with the approach to Pamplona. it was damp during the last several kilometers, but not enough to properly be called “rain.” unlike later cities (looking at you, Burgos) the suburban sprawl to the east of Pamplona is limited and relatively picturesque. after crossing over the river, the walls of the city loom up suddenly behind the trees and demand a moment to take them in.

in 75-74 BCE, Pompey set up camp on the site of what is now Pamplona, establishing the village that over centuries grew into the city we see today. it later became the primary city of the Vascones (Basques), called Iruña. the intervening centuries saw the city controlled by all manner of rulers — Visigoths, Basques, Muslims. for a period after the Muslim conquest of Pamplona in 715, things remained stable as the Basques near the Pyrenees seemed disinterested in repulsing or ousting the Moorish troops and the city may have even flourished. as the 8th century progressed, however, control over Pamplona vacillated between Moorish and Frankish control with neither side able to gain satisfactory control. in 778 as he fled back towards the Pyrenees, Charlemagne is said to have destroyed the walls of the city (if not the entire city) in a bid, as mentioned, to prevent his enemies from using it in the future. this went counter to agreements he’d made not to attack the city walls and may have spurred Basque rebels into the ambush and battle that destroyed his rearguard in Roncevaux Pass.

city prospects revived again in the 11th century, helped by the flow of peregrinos along the Camino. the city enlarged with two additional boroughs in the 12th century — meaning three distinct (and often conflicting) towns existed within the city’s fortress walls. the king unified the boroughs into one city in 1423, which remained the capital of the autonomous kingdom of Navarra after its annexation to Spain in 1512. Castilian conquest a year later and advancements in military technology prompted enhancements to the city defenses, including the construction of a massive star for on the city’s south and fortification of the city walls. the walls we passed through date from the late 16th to 18th centuries. 

because of the city’s military importance, the walls restricted growth — expansion had to go up rather than out, resulting in tall buildings, warren-like streets, and a dearth of open spaces and courtyards. by the end of the 19th century, housing density reached a critical limit and modifications to the star fort allowed an expansion by six city blocks. woo! three decades later, however, the advent of the First World War and its attendant military advancements rendered Pamplona’s existing defenses useless and in short order the southern wall was demolished to allow for rapid urbanization and expansion from the 1920s to the 1950s and into the present day.

Pamplona is the home to the University of Navarra (ranked as the best private university in Spain and the campus of which we walked through on our way out of the city) as well as the infamous Opus Dei, which operates the University. city industry is diversified with the automotive industry making up the largest part. renewable energies are also increasing their presence in the economic sector — which is evinced by the line of wind turbines dotting the ridge to the west of the city (about which more in my next post). nearby Sarriguren is home to the National Centre for Renewable Energies.

and of course there’s the (in)famous running of the bulls every year in July during the Festival of San Fermín. can’t say I’m sad we missed it — there’s no way we would have gotten a room at our awesome hotel and would have had to contend with thousands of people while we made our way wearily out of town just as they’re releasing the bulls.