Well it’s time to move and today the target is Pamplona the first city on the Camino. Given that there are whole books dedicated to Pamplona, this is clearly not a place I can do justice to in a blog post. So I’ve decided on a brief history with links for you to investigate the ‘essential’ things to see and I’m going to concentrate on the two things that most people associate with Pamplona, namely bulls and Hemingway. I think it’s also time to introduce the first reading list. But first I’ve got to get there!
Stage 3 Zubiri to Pamplona
The route from Zubiri essentially follows the Rio Arga to the town of Larrasoaña, an important stop for pilgrims in Medieval times. But first we have to negotiate a very 20th century construction, the Magna factory , a company founded in 1945 to take advantage of the geological deposit of magnesite. Once through the industrial area it’s a cobbled path to a welcome fountain at Ilarratz. There also an opportunity to make a stop off at the Camino Abbey a few kilometres west of Zubiri.
The Abbey of Eskirotz and Ilarratz (La Abadia de Eskirotz y Ilarratz ) is the only abbey on the Camino de Santiago. It started as a 12th century Knights Templar fort, and later became an abbey and church. It is open now while being restored so that it may be a place of rest and meditation for pilgrims walking the Camino and remain a cultural and historic landmark along the Way. The building is unique for many reasons. It is a church with a rectangular floor divided into three sections that was originally built in the twelfth century, but later transformed in the sixteenth century. Many traces of the history remain semi-hidden in many details.
The Abbey is privately owned and was being restored as a labour of love. Sadly the owner, himself a previous pilgrim, was diagnosed with stage 4 terminal cancer in June 2020 so the future of the Abbey is uncertain.
Next stop is Larrasoaña, though it’s not strictly on the route as it’s on the other side of the river, accessed by the Bandidos bridge. However it’s a landmark town on the Jacobean route due to its growth following the founding of a monastery in the 10th century. In the 11th century it already had a pilgrims’ hospital and in the 12th it received the jurisdiction of the Franks: foreign artisans, generally French, who made the current urban configuration on both sides of the Camino. Its emblazoned houses stand out as well as the parish church dedicated to San Nicolás de Bari and the hermitages of San Blas and Santiago. Perhaps more importantly for modern day pellegrinos it offers somewhere to stay, eat and stock up on essentials at the supermarket.
After a welcome pit stop it’s back to the route via Akerreta. From there it’s mostly a lovely sheltered walk between trees and bushes down to the river at Zuriain, though there is a tricky decent with steep steps – not good for the knees. There’s a quick photo stop at Arleta for the Señorío de Arleta (an old manor house) and the Iglesia de Santa Marina. The area around here is particularly beautiful in spring and summer when the path is lined with orchids.
It’s starting to get busier now as Pamplona gets nearer and the Mural vor Pamplona is a welcome sight. Having spent most of the day following the river Arga, it’s time to meet the Rio Ulzama (which meets up with the Arga a little further on). There’s a medieval bridge over the Rio Ulzama to the hamlet of Trinidad de Arre where there’s a pilgrim hostel for those not wanting to stay amidst the bustle of down town Pamplona. Failing that it’s a nice excuse to pick up something tasty from one of the bakeries and just appreciate the view for a little while.
Not far along the main road from Trinidad de Arre is the village of Villava, now subsumed into the suburbs of Pamplona, it has it’s own claim to fame. Villava is the birthplace of retired road racing cyclist Miguel Induráin Larraya. Induráin won five Tours de France from 1991 to 1995, the fourth, and last, to win five times, and the only five-time winner to achieve those victories consecutively – no mean feat!
The end is nearly in site now, it’s a kilometre or two through Burlada to the medieval Magdalena bridge crossing and then the approach towards the Portal de Francia. A city gate forming part of the old city fortifications, the gate (dated 1553) and it’s drawbridge makes a dramatic entrance to Pamplona.
How I covered my miles/kms
- 26th April – 11.2kms
- 27th April – 9kms
- Total cycled so far 80.9Kms, distance left 693.1kms
Pamplona (Basque Iruña)
A (very) Brief History
Pamplona was founded by the Roman general Pompey, who named it Pompaelo in 75 B.C. He set up his camp on the plateau where the Cathedral now stands, on the site of an ancient Vascon settlement. From the 4th to the 9th centuries, Pamplona was alternately under the control of Visigoths and Muslims.
The Middle Ages saw the city become the capital of the Kingdom of Pamplona, and later of the Kingdom of Navarre. The city was divided into 3 walled boroughs : Navarrería, San Cernin and San Nicolás. The continuous battles between the Vascons and Franks who lived in these boroughs led King Carlos III ‘el Noble’ to sign the ‘Privilege of Union’ in 1423′, making Pamplona a single city. The new City Hall was built, a coat of arms was created and the building of more internal fortifications was prohibited. The Pilgrims Way to Santiago, very popular at the time, crossed the city and left its mark on it.
Following the incorporation of Navarre into Castile in 1512-1515, Pamplona became a key place in the defence of Spain against France. Its status as a city-fortress was strengthened with the building of the Citadel, a walled enclosure (16th-18th centuries).
In the 18th century the modernization of the city began, leading to street lighting, a sewerage network, neo-classical fountains… although the process was interrupted by Napoleon’s invasion. A part of the city walls was knocked down in 1915 to enable the expansion of the city. This was later accompanied by a process of industrial, social and cultural development that laid the foundations for modern-day Pamplona
(Courtesy of Turismo Navarra)
Things to see
The Rough Guide to Spain assures me that “everything you’re likely to want to see lies within the compact Casco Antiguo. Centring on the Plaza del Castillo, ringed with fashionable cafes, it’s a glorious and very much lived-in jumble of buildings from all eras, where every twisting stone lane is worth exploring and intriguingly tatty old shops and bars lies concealed behind medieval shutters.”
The list below contains the 20 must visit attractions as listed in Culture Trip
NB if some of the links come up in Spanish your browser should give you a translate to English option (unless you’re feeling adventurous!)
- Casco Antiguo (The old town)
- Ciudadela & Vuelta del Castillo Park
- Pamplona City Walls
- Interpretation Center of the Fortifications
- La Catedral de Santa María la Real de Pamplona
- Plaza del Castillo
- Museo de Navarra
- Portal de Francia
- Taconera Park
- Casa Consistorial
- Fiesta de San Fermín
- Iglesia de San Nicolás
- Palacio de Navarra
- Museo Universidad de Navarra
- Parroquia San Lorenzo (aka Capilla de San Fermin)
- Monumento al Encierro
- Café Iruña
- Parque de los Sentidos
- Calle de Zapateria
The links to the above come from a variety of websites so you can lose yourself down a Pamplona rabbit hole should you choose.
Ernest Hemingway and Pamplona
While I hadn’t anticipated finding Hemingway in Barguete, I had no doubt he’d be waiting in Pamplona.
Hemingway is known to have visited the city on nine occasions, most notedly between 1923 and 1927 when he visited each year. On each occasion it was for the festival of San Fermin as it fed Hemingway’s obsession with bulls and bullfighting. A recent article in History Today drilled down into Hemingway’s love of a spectacle which many, me included, find abhorrent. It was another facet of the hunting, shooting fishing, hard drinking, machismo that he presented to the world.
Pamplona, along with the fiesta, is immortalised in The Sun Also Rises (aka Fiesta). The book, published in 1926, regales the tale of a hedonistic group of friends as they swap the hotspots of Paris for the macho world of bullfighting in Spain. It’s a thinly veiled exposé of the behaviour and exploits of his own circle of friends, including his fishing trip to Barguete in the summer of 1925. It’s narrator, Jake Barnes, is undoubtedly Hemingway himself. You can read more on the background and who was who here.
Prior to the publication of the book, San Fermin was an event largely unknown outside the region. But Hemingway advertised it to a global audience. On a later visit in 1959 he was shocked by the changes. In The Dangerous Summer (published posthumously) he observed,
“Pamplona was rough, as always, overcrowded… I’ve written Pamplona once, and for keeps. It is all there, as it always was, except forty thousand tourists have been added. There were not twenty tourists when I first went there… four decades ago.”“The Old Man and the City”, The Independent, Tuesday 09 May 2017
While Hemingway’s depiction of the city and its fiesta may have been a double edged sword, Pamplona has honoured their adopted son with two statues. The first was commissioned in 1968 by Pamplona City Council. They chose sculptor Luis Sanguino, (who also had a passion for bulls) who depicted Hemingway wearing his characteristic roll-neck sweater, leaning on the bull ring barrier as he watches a bull fight. It’s located on the Paseo de Hemingwayparade, next to the Bull Ring.
The second, life-size statue props up the bar in a wood-paneled side room in the Café Iruña, another place immortalized in The Sun Also Rises.
The cafe takes it’s name from the Basque name for Pamplona ‘Iruña’. Opened in 1888 in the ‘Plaza del Castillo’ (Castle Square), it was the first establishment with electric light in the city. It opened to the public on the eve of San Fermín and they reportedly filled up the porches. It’s link with the festival has made it an essential meeting place during the annual event. No wonder then that Hemingway made it one of his favourite places. Just next to the café there is a section devoted to him, in Hemingway Corner, visitable by prior request. The Café Iruña pays their own homage to Ernest Hemingway with a large bronze bust of the writer which can be found at the end of the bar.
Entering the interior of the restaurant is like stepping back in time as it retains many of it’s original features. From it’s ceiling lights and wall lights, intricate wooden windows, the giant mirrors on the walls and the fantastically beautiful columns that span the whole length of the café. The café is an exhibition of the finest architecture and interior design from the 19th Century.
The Hemingway Route (Ruta Hemingway)
The Pamplona City Council provides an excellent guide to the city called The Hemingway Route. It highlights locations and buildings that claim a link, or were visited by Hemingway. Clicking on each link brings up a history/background to the location. It’s a fantastic way of discovering Hemingway’s Pamplona.
Festival of San Fermin
The festival of San Fermín is held annually from 6th -14 July. The celebrations, in honour of Saint Fermin (patron saint of Navarre) start at noon on the first day with la chupinazo (or txupinazo in Basque) which is the launching of a firework rocket. It ends at midnight on the final day with the singing of a popular song Pobre de mí. (Poor Me).
The festival is a time for partying and fun, with many traditional events taking place. To the outside world it has become synonymous with it’s most famous event, The Running of the Bulls and yet it’s possible to enjoy San Fermines (as it’s called locally) without seeing a bull, or attending a bullfight.
The Running of the Bulls (El encierro)
The event takes place over an 875 meter fenced in route. It takes place each morning during the festival at 8am and ordinarily, should take between 2 to 3 minutes to complete, barring accidents. The runners precede six fighting bulls, that are accompanied by six tamed bell-oxen leading their way to the bullring. Sadly these fighting bulls are the ones that will take part in the bullfighting later in the day.
Spanish tradition claims it started in the middle ages when the bulls being brought to market/slaughter were hurried along by using tactics of fear and excitement to speed the process. Over the years this tactic of hurrying became a competition as young men raced in front of the bulls to reach the market pens before the bulls.
Today it’s association with bullfighting has it’s roots in the 18th Century. Although bullfighting in Spain can trace its origins to 711 A.D., with the first official bullfight being held in honor of the coronation of King Alfonso VIII. It’s popularity continued although as ‘sport’ undertaken on horseback (with lances) it was largely reserved for the Spanish aristocracy. However that changed as a result of an edict issued by Philip (Felipe) V denouncing it as a barbarous activity for noblemen and, with the support of the Pope, any nobleman who continued with the practice was threatened with excommunication. From c1724 this ‘noble’ sport gave way to a different form of bullfighting, on foot with smaller weapons and now practiced by commoners. It saw the rise of bullfighting as a profession, with formalised rules and the growth of bullfighting arenas known as La Plaza de Toros. A traditional ‘corrida’ involves 6 bulls and it’s said that as these bulls are led to the bullring, youths would run in front, in an act of bravado, giving rise to The Running of the Bulls to the bullring, as in Pamplona. Bull runs are still held in other towns and villages in Spain, Portugal, Mexico and the Camargue region of France, though not always in conjunction with bullfighting. Pamplona has just come to prominence thanks to Hemingway.
The Running of the Bulls, was in fact common practice across Europe. We also had a custom of chasing a bull to slaughter. The earliest recorded instance dates back to 1389, and essentially involved chasing a bull through the streets of a town to weaken it for slaughter, where it was then butchered for its meat. It became illegal in 1835 and the last known bull run took place in Stamford, Lincolnshire, in 1839.
An Associated Reading List
Don’t worry this isn’t going to be a list of everything ever written by, or about, Hemingway. I’m sure you’re probably ‘Heminwayed’ out by now. It’s a link to the books mentioned above, along with his other ‘Spanish’ titles and fiction about his relationships. There are also fiction titles that relate to Pamplona, the areas already covered since this ‘trip’ started and some interesting titles relating to the region. Happy Reading!
The image is an affiliate link to the Amazon page.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Published in 1926 to explosive acclaim, The Sun Also Rises stands as perhaps the most impressive first novel ever written by an American writer. A roman à clef about a group of American and English expatriates on an excursion from Paris’s Left Bank to Pamplona for the July fiesta and its climactic bull fight, a journey from the center of a civilization spiritually bankrupted by the First World War to a vital, God-haunted world in which faith and honor have yet to lose their currency, the novel captured for the generation that would come to be called “Lost” the spirit of its age.
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
In 1937 Ernest Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the civil war there for the North American Newspaper Alliance. Three years later he completed the greatest novel to emerge from “the good fight,” For Whom the Bell Tolls. The story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to an antifascist guerilla unit in the mountains of Spain, it tells of loyalty and courage, love and defeat, and the tragic death of an ideal. In his portrayal of Jordan’s love for the beautiful Maria and his superb account of El Sordo’s last stand, in his brilliant travesty of La Pasionaria and his unwillingness to believe in blind faith, Hemingway surpasses his achievement in The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms to create a work at once rare and beautiful, strong and brutal, compassionate, moving, and wise. “If the function of a writer is to reveal reality,” Maxwell Perkins wrote to Hemingway after reading the manuscript, “no one ever so completely performed it.” Greater in power, broader in scope, and more intensely emotional than any of the author’s previous works, it stands as one of the best war novels of all time.
Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway
Still considered one of the best books ever written about bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon is an impassioned look at the sport by one of its true aficionados. It reflects Hemingway’s conviction that bullfighting was more than mere sport and reveals a rich source of inspiration for his art. The unrivaled drama of bullfighting, with its rigorous combination of athleticism and artistry, and its requisite display of grace under pressure, ignited Hemingway’s imagination. Here he describes and explains the technical aspects of this dangerous ritual and “the emotional and spiritual intensity and pure classic beauty that can be produced by a man, an animal, and a piece of scarlet serge draped on a stick.” Seen through his eyes, bullfighting becomes a richly choreographed ballet, with performers who range from awkward amateurs to masters of great elegance and cunning.
A fascinating look at the history and grandeur of bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon is also a deeper contemplation of the nature of cowardice and bravery, sport and tragedy, and is enlivened throughout by Hemingway’s sharp commentary on life and literature.
The Dangerous Summer by Ernest Hemingway
The Dangerous Summer is Hemingway’s firsthand chronicle of a brutal season of bullfights. In this vivid account, Hemingway captures the exhausting pace and pressure of the season, the camaraderie and pride of the matadors, and the mortal drama—as in fight after fight—the rival matadors try to outdo each other with ever more daring performances. At the same time Hemingway offers an often complex and deeply personal self-portrait that reveals much about one of the twentieth century’s preeminent writers.
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a shy twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness when she meets Ernest Hemingway and is captivated by his energy, intensity and burning ambition to write. After a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for France. But glamorous Jazz Age Paris, full of artists and writers, fuelled by alcohol and gossip, is no place for family life and fidelity. Ernest and Hadley’s marriage begins to founder, and the birth of a beloved son serves only to drive them further apart. Then, at last, Ernest’s ferocious literary endeavours begin to bring him recognition – not least from a woman intent on making him her own . . .
Love & Ruin by Paula McLain
In 1937, courageous and independent Martha Gellhorn travels to Madrid to report on the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War, and finds herself drawn to the stories of ordinary people caught in devastating conflict. She also finds herself unexpectedly – and uncontrollably – falling in love with Ernest Hemingway, a man already on his way to being a legend. In the shadow of the impending Second World War, and set against the tumultuous backdrops of Madrid, Finland, China, and especially Cuba, where Martha and Hemingway made their home, their relationship and professional careers ignite.
But when Hemingway publishes the biggest literary success of his career, they are no longer equals, and Martha must make a choice: surrender to the suffocating demands of a domestic lifestyle, or risk losing her husband by forging her way as her own woman and writer. It is a dilemma that will force her to break his heart, and her own.
Based on a true story
Martha Gellhorn was one of the greatest war correspondents of the 20th century
FOR WHOM THE BELLS TOLLS was dedicated to Martha, and inspired by the time they were together in Spain.
Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood
In the dazzling summer of 1926, Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley travel from their home in Paris to a villa in the south of France. They swim, play bridge and drink gin. But wherever they go they are accompanied by the glamorous and irrepressible Fife. Fife is Hadley’s best friend. She is also Ernest’s lover.
Hadley is the first Mrs. Hemingway, but neither she nor Fife will be the last. Over the ensuing decades, Ernest’s literary career will blaze a trail, but his marriages will be ignited by passion and deceit. Four extraordinary women will learn what it means to love the most famous writer of his generation, and each will be forced to ask herself how far she will go to remain his wife . . .
Hemingway’s Girl by Erika Robuck
In Depression-era Key West, Mariella Bennet, the daughter of an American fisherman and a Cuban woman, knows hunger. Her struggle to support her family following her father’s death leads her to a bar and bordello, where she bets on a risky boxing match…and attracts the interest of two men: world-famous writer, Ernest Hemingway, and Gavin Murray, one of the WWI veterans who are laboring to build the Overseas Highway.
When Mariella is hired as a maid by Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline, she enters a rarified world of lavish, celebrity-filled dinner parties and elaborate off-island excursions. As she becomes caught up in the tensions and excesses of the Hemingway household, the attentions of the larger-than-life writer become a dangerous temptation…even as straightforward Gavin Murray draws her back to what matters most. Will she cross an invisible line with the volatile Hemingway, or find a way to claim her own dreams? As a massive hurricane bears down on Key West, Mariella faces some harsh truths…and the possibility of losing everything she loves.
Tomorrow Pamplona by Jan Van Mersbergen
A story about anger, aggression and the desire for intimacy by a rising star of modern Dutch literature.
A professional boxer and a family man meet by chance on a journey to the Pamplona Bull Run. The boxer is fleeing an unhappy love. The father hopes to escape his dull routine. Both know that, eventually, they will have to return to the place each calls ‘home’.
Why Peirene chose to publish this book: ‘I adore the deceptive simplicity of this story. On the surface, the fast moving plot, the short sentences, the ordinary words make the text as straightforward as punches in a boxing match. But just as physical conflict stirs deep emotions, so too does this book as it focuses on a single question: how do you choose between flight and fight?’
Bacchanalia : A Pamplona Story by John Hemingway
Bacchanalia, A Pamplona Story is a novel that takes place during the Fiesta de San Fermin. It follows the activities of a group of expatriates as they live the nine day festival to its fullest, running with the bulls in the morning, watching the bullfights in the afternoon and in between drinking, partying, feasting, flirting and making love like there was no tomorrow.
The characters are of different nationalities and backgrounds and each of them finds something unique in Pamplona.
But perhaps the most important character in the novel is the Fiesta itself with its traditions and mysteries, its vitality and tragedy, its joy and almost bipolar duality between the spiritual and the pagan. It is an event that is forever changing and continually renewed by the millions of visitors who have embraced it and will embrace it in the years to come. It is the Bacchanalia, one of the few places left in the modern world where a man can take a chance and risk everything for love or a fleeting run with the bulls.
The Last Fiesta by Andy Rumbold
It’s summer 1995 and Dan Willis is living in Santander, northern Spain, trying to get his life back on track, when he receives an unexpected call from an old school friend and Gulf War veteran, Billy Wyatt, who wants to visit him. Unbeknown to Billy, Dan invites two other school friends to join them. It s a decision that will change their lives forever.
The Song of Roland
On 15 August 778, Charlemagne’s army was returning from a successful expedition against Saracen Spain when its rearguard was ambushed in a remote Pyrenean pass. Out of this skirmish arose a stirring tale of war, which was recorded in the oldest extant epic poem in French. The Song of Roland, written by an unknown poet, tells of Charlemagne’s warrior nephew, Lord of the Breton Marches, who valiantly leads his men into battle against the Saracens, but dies in the massacre, defiant to the end. In majestic verses, the battle becomes a symbolic struggle between Christianity and paganism, while Roland’s last stand is the ultimate expression of honour and feudal values of twelfth-century France.
The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo ( Baztán Trilogy 1)
A killer at large in a remote Basque Country valley , a detective to rival Clarice Starling, myth versus reality, masterful storytelling – the Spanish bestseller that has taken Europe by storm.
Shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger
The body of a teenage girl has been found on the banks of the River Baztán – the second in a month. Soon rumours are flying in the village of Elizondo. Is this the work of a serial killer, or something even more sinister?
Inspector Amaia Salazar leads the investigation, returning to the Basque country where she was born. Shrouded in mist and surrounded by forest, it conceals a terrible secret from Amaia’s childhood that has come back to haunt her.
Facing the superstitions of the village, Amaia must fight the demons of her past in order to catch the killer. But what is the dark presence she senses lurking in the shadows?
The Legacy of the Bones by Dolores Redondo ( Baztán Trilogy 2)
IT TAKES JUST ONE WORD TO STIR THE GHOSTS OF THE PAST
A year after arresting Jason Medina for the rape and murder of his step-daughter, Detective Inspector Amaia Salazar has one last duty to complete before starting her maternity leave – attending Medina’s trial.
When the trial is suddenly called off, Amaia is appalled. But the judge had no choice. Jason Medina has committed suicide, leaving behind a cryptic note addressed to Amaia: the single word ‘Tarttalo’.
To unravel the truth behind this obscure reference to Basque mythology, Amaia must return once again to the Baztan valley, her family home and the place where she feels most vulnerable. As the investigation becomes more complicated and more personal, those closest to Amaia will be placed in mortal danger…
Offering to the Storm by Dolores Redondo ( Baztán Trilogy 3)
It begins with a murdered child. It ends in a valley where nightmares are born.
When Detective Inspector Amaia Salazar is called in to investigate the death of a baby girl, she finds an ominous sign that points to murder.
The girl’s grandmother tells the police that the ‘Inguma’ was responsible – an evil demon of Basque mythology that kills people in their sleep – Amaia is forced to return to the Baztán valley for answers.
Back where it all began, she comes face to face with a ghost from her past. And finally uncovers a devastating truth that has ravaged the valley for years.
Well I think that’s all from Pamplona, but before I depart on the next stage I’ll leave you with my favourite Pamplonan.