Pamplona, Navarre

Visited June 15, 2011. Pamplona is located in the Navarre region.

Attraction Checklist:

  • La Plaza del Toros
  • Hotel de Perla

Pamplona (or Iruña) was founded by the Vascons and later established as a Roman settlement by General Gnaeus Pompey Magnus, who gave the city its name, “Pompaelo” or “Pamplona,” in 75 B.C.E. The city became the capital of the Navarre kingdom when Iñigo Arista became king after fighting the Moors and Visigoths in 824. After the last great king, Sancho III, passed away, the Navarre kingdom began to lose its influence and control over its territory. By the 1500s, Navarre became part of the Spanish kingdom.

Pamplona today is a modern city with one of the highest standards of living and quality of life in Spain. It is also one of the most iconic images of Spain: the running of the bulls (encierro) in the Festival of San Fermín, which takes place every year on July 7-14 in Pamplona. The bull is central to the festival as well as the bull fights; on the night before the festival, the bulls are transferred to the corrals, where they spend the night in a vigil. It is said that this was a tradition of cattle herders using fear and excitement to hurry their livestock into the pens to be sold at market. On the following day at 8AM young men say their prayers and then the bulls are released at the sound of a rocket. Man and bull race each other through the tight, narrow streets of the old part of Pamplona (Cuesta de Santo Domingo) toward the bull ring (La Plaza del Toros), where the race ends. However, is this festival wrong? Every year, there is a chance that somebody would die for the sake of tradition. See this blog post on Bullrunning.com for an interesting debate.

Ernest Hemingway, the famous American author who introduced to the world the Festival of San Fermín in The Sun Also Rises, once commented that

“Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honor.”

To outsiders, the bullfight appears to be an act of cruelty. For the Spanish, it was a tradition that allowed one to prove oneself as a man. Even bull running shares the same thrill of adrenaline and boundary between life-and-death. See this account of a bull runner.

After the run, there are festivities including a parade of giant cardboard figures called gigantes y cabezudos that represent the kings and queens from Europe, Asia, America, and Africa during the morning; bull fights in the afternoon, and fireworks at night.

During our visit, we did not see the runs but rather the streets in the old part of the city, where the running takes place, and the Plaza de Toros, where Hemingway’s statue guards the entrance to the bullring. The Hotel de Perla, where Hemingway stayed in Pamplona in the 1800s, in the plaza near the old part was pointed out to us. Afterwards, we had free time to explore the shops and historical sites before heading back to our hotel outside of the commercial district.

Acknowledgments

Resources

Bullrunning.com. (2009, July). First Timer at San Fermin—a blog of Bullrunning.com. Retrieved from http://www.bullrunning.com/blogs/firsttimer/

Pamplona City Council. (2011). City of Pamplona. Retrieved from http://www.pamplona.net/

Wikipedia. (2011, August 22). Pamplona. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pamplona&oldid=446086583

Wikipedia. (2011, August 3). San Fermín. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=San_Ferm%C3%ADn&oldid=442917397</a

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