This book is a travelogue about the cities of northern Spain.
I travelled to Valencia, Barcelona, Pamplona, Burgos, San Sebastian, Valladolid, Segovia, Leon, Gijon, Oviedo, Santiago de Compostela, Pontevedra, A Coruna, and Vigo on board the fast, modern trains of the Spanish railways.
Here is an excerpt about Pamplona:
Pamplona is the capital of the Navarre region. In the city, most of the signs are in Spanish and Basque. Pamplona is called Iruna in the Basque language. The city is named after Pompey, the Roman General, who was part of the First Triumvirate (60–53 BC). This was an informal alliance between himself and two other prominent Roman politicians: Gaius Julius Caesar and Marcus Licinius Crassus, at the end of the Roman Republic.
Pamplona is an important stop for Pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. I saw scallop shells on pavements all over the city, showing the route to follow to Santiago. A large scallop shell was used as a sign on the exterior wall of a building to indicate this was a hostel where pilgrims could bed down for the night at a favourable rate.
Roncesvalles is just over 30 miles away from Pamplona. Legend has it that here in 778 the Basque tribes defeated the armies of Charlemagne and killed Roland, commander of Charlemagne’s rearguard. This event features in the epic 11th-century poem Chanson de Roland (Song of Roland) and today’s Basques still revere their forefathers for this battle. Camino pilgrims give thanks at the famous monastery in Roncesvalles for a successful crossing of the Pyrenees, one of the hardest parts of the Camino.
Pamplona’s city walls are still much in evidence. I enjoyed the view from the Parque de la Toconera high above the River Arga. The foothills of The Pyrenees looked impressive as was the Portal Nuevo an arched gateway leading into the Old Town. The Portal de Francia behind the cathedral of Santa Maria is well worth seeing too.
They built this church between the 14th and early 16th centuries although the western facade is 18th Century. It’s worth paying the entrance fee to view the fine ceilings of the cloisters, the Barbazana Chapel, the refectory, and the Preious Doorway whose tympanum shows scenes from the death of the Virgin Mary. The finest sight is the tomb of King Carlos III and his Queen, Eleanor, in the nave, a delicate memorial to the couple.
I then enjoyed a pleasant stroll along Ronda Obispo Barbazan on top of the eastern battlements towards the area behind the bullring where there’s a lift down to the canal. This lift is a metallic structure and doesn’t fit in with its surroundings but I am sure the designers regarded it as a bold statement of modern architecture.
Heading back into the centre I passed the statue dedicated to the bull running or encierro. This is an impressive piece of work showing the runners and bulls interacting with each other. One runner has fallen, and a bull is about to charge him with horns lowered. I winced at the impending collision. The other runners keep out of harm’s way and one is waving a newspaper at the bulls.
Nearby is the Plaza de Castillo, located south of the old town of Pamplona and serving as a link between the old town and the new part of the city known as Segundo Ensanche. Like most Spanish squares, it has porticoes on all sides, but there is no uniformity of architectural style as they added the buildings over the course of the 16th and 17th centuries. The facade of the Palacio de Navarra is prominent on the south side and on the eastern side stands the Goyeneche Palace, a baroque palatial house. The square is pedestrians only and at its centre is an 18-metre high music kiosk – what is referred to as a bandstand in the UK – with Ionic columns supporting the roof.