When you think of Pamplona, the first thing that probably comes to mind is the famous Running of the Bulls (San Fermin) that takes place each July. You probably don’t know, though, that this city has one of the most sprawling and well preserved medieval fortress complexes in all of Europe! Pamplona’s City Walls stretch 5km around the Casco Viejo (Old Town) and offer breathtaking views of the newer parts of the city below. Plus, they’re totally free to visit!
I first saw the city walls while waking into Pamplona on the Camino de Santiago. The sheer size of the walls, functioning historical bridges, and ornately carved scallop shell symbols had me instantly in awe of the structure! I was eager to learn as much about the walls as possible and am thrilled to share their history with you today.
A Little History
Roman political and military leader Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey to his friends) founded Pamplona all the way back in 74 BC. The city’s location was super strategic: close to the French border, the Pyrenees, and La Rioja. Naturally, the Romans started fortifying the city as soon as they moved in. Attacks happened, walls would fall, and the city would expand.
Speaking of expanding: Pamplona was a happening place by the Middle Ages! Many merchants set up shop outside the walls, creating micro-cities. These micro-cities needed walls of their own and soon the area looked almost like a mandala with walls on walls! The micro-cities grew into 3 major boroughs: San Cernin, San Nicolas and Navarrería.
Separately, the boroughs were great, but the powers that be decided to make them even greater. Enter the Privilegio de la Unión of 1423! They tore the walls separating the boroughs down and one united Pamplona emerged.
Fast forward around 100 years to 1515 when the Kingdom of Navarre is incorporated into the Crown of Castille. The crown immediately went to work strengthening Pamplona’s city walls, as the city was now the main line of defense against the French.
When Filipe II came to power, he wanted to guard Spain from France and strengthen the loyalties of the citizens of Pamplona. Filipe did this by ordering the construction of a grand citadel in 1571. The pentagon-shaped citadel connected to the existing city walls and aided in protecting Pamplona for several centuries.
A Bit More Modern
While the walls were protecting the city, Pamplona continued to grow, and grow, and grow. Eventually, the city started sprawling out past the walls. The demolition of part of the walls was approved and 2 bastions of the citadel were leveled in 1888. The city kept growing, so a second demolition was approved for 1925, this time for the southern part of the wall.
Today, about 75% of the walls and citadel remain. They’ve been given National Monument status and are very well conserved. Some historians even argue that they’re the most important modern fortified complex in all of Spain. Those visiting the walls and citadel can stroll through the gorgeous green park areas and marvel at the expansive structures in front of them.
Visiting Pamplona’s City Walls
Seeing Pamplona’s city walls is so easy! The walls basically line the northern side of the historic center of the city. You can always put Portal de Francia into your GPS. No cellular data? Simply head to the Catedral de Pamplona, walk a few blocks up, and you’ll run right in to the walls! To see the citadel, walk toward the Plaza de Castillo, take the southwest exit and walk down to the Plaza Principe de Viana, then go west and you’re there! It’s a huge green space – you can’t miss it.
Visiting both Pamplona’s city walls and the citadel is totally free! The city has put some great information markers up explaining the history of the walls. Unfortunately, some are a bit hard to read because they’ve been covered in graffiti. All of the markers are in Spanish, so I recommend downloading Google Translate’s app if you don’t speak Spanish.
I had absolutely no idea that Pamplona had such a long, interesting history when I first entered the city. Naturally, I was thrilled seeing all of the protected archaeological areas! I can’t wait to return to Pamplona some day and spend more time learning the history of this great city.