Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Pamplona: Capital of the Kingdom of Navarra

Pamplona's pretty architecture

We didn't run with the bulls, but our 24 hours in Pamplona was packed full of sightseeing. Pamplona (Iruña in Basque) is the last stop on our spring trip to Spain, and honestly, by the time we arrive, we are tired, our taste buds and tummies are on overload and we are completely out of clean clothes. But after checking into our hotel and taking a quick look at Facebook and email, we head out to explore the medieval city of Pamplona, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Navarra.

Just as we reach the base of Pamplona's city walls, which are some of the best preserved in Europe, the skies open up and we join the soggy crowd seeking shelter just across the Puente de la Rochapea on the Arga River. As soon as the rain lets up, we enter the old city through Portal de Francia, following the route of the famed encierro (bull run), which takes place each July during the San Fermin Fiesta.

Sign along the route of Pamplona's encierro

I pick up a handy guide to city walks at the tourist office, and we peruse the possibilities while sipping thick, luscious hot chocolate at Plaza Consistorial.

Strolling band in Plaza Consistorial

Ultimately, we decide to stroll aimlessly and I put away the map. Before long, the sun is shinning, and people seem to pour into the massive Plaza del Castillo. For more than 200 years, the 14,000-square-meter plaza has served as a venue for markets, political demonstrations, tournaments, parades and, until 1844, bullfights. Today it is the city's central meeting place.

Plaza del Castillo

Ken poses by the gazebo in Plaza del Castillo.

Even Pamplonians love 'The Good Wife.'

Carlos III El Noble, King of Navarra

We eventually find ourselves at Plaza de Toros, Pamplona's bull ring. Built in 1922 with a 19,720 capacity, here is the ending point for the running of the bulls and, sadly, for many of the bulls themselves. Just outside, a statue of Ernest Hemingway, perhaps America's most notable bullfight fan and the man who made Pamplona famous. (For more on this, check out this interesting July 2011 article in The Independent.)

Sculpture at Plaza de Toros

Ernest Hemingway statue at Plaza de Toros

We stop to rest in the quiet, grassy park at the Citadel, one of Europe's most notable examples of Renaissance military architecture. The stone buildings are now used for exhibitions and events, and avant garde statues dot the park.

Sculpture in the Citadel park in Pamplona

Ken and a cannon at the gates to the Citadel

It's getting late, so we make a B-line for Taconera Park. We've been told that a variety of animals reside here in the old moats. We don't see any deer, but there are lots of birds, including peacocks and turkeys in this open-air zoo.

An old moat along Pamplona's city walls is an open-air zoo in Taconera Park.

This post ends this series on Spain, and I will end with a few thoughts about this beautiful country. Ken and I have visited Spain four times so far, and we have had nothing but great memories: of the people, the places, the food and wine. As much as we love France, each time we venture south of the border we find ourselves wondering if we should have chosen Spain as our adopted country. Those of you who know us know that someday we may decide to do just that.

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