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
Pamplona stands out for its magnificent mediaeval city walls, considered one of the most interesting and best conserved defensive systems in Spain. You can get to know its 3 miles of walls, bastions, ravelins and forts, jointly declared a National Monument, in more detail in the Fortifications Centre of Pamplona.
Most of the artistic heritage of interest lies within the walled perimeter in the historic quarter of the city. The highest point is the Cathedral of Santa María (12th and 15th centuries), which hides one of the most beautiful Gothic cloisters in Europe behind its neo-classical façade. Inside is an exhibition titled ”Occidens” that has won a Core77 prize (New York) as the best exhibition in the world. It takes you on an experimental journey through the different phases of our history thanks to new virtual technology.
Strolling along, we come across the mediaeval fortress-churches of San Saturnino and San Nicolás, and palaces such as the Royal and General Archives of Navarre, the former Palace of the Kings, an emblematic 13th-century building refurbished by the architect Rafael Moneo; the Palacio del Condestable, the only example of 16th-century civil architecture in Pamplona; and the Palacio de Navarra, the seat of the Government of Navarre.
Another interesting building is the City Hall, built in the baroque and neo-classical style. Every July 6th a ceremonial rocket is launched from the main balcony to start the festivity of San Fermín, and part of the 880-metre route of the famous bull run passes in front of it. Another must-see is the Plaza del Castillo, the heart of the city where the mark of Hemingway is present in places such as the mythical Café Iruña, the Gran Hotel La Perla or the Bar Txoko.
The city also has a good selection of museums: the Museo de Navarra , which chronicles the history of Navarre from Prehistoric times to the present day, the Museo Universidad de Navarra,also designed by Moneo, which houses an art collection with paintings by Picasso, Tàpies or Kandinsky, and the Planetarium, which offers interesting films on astronomy as well as temporary exhibitions. The Museo Oteiza in Alzuza (8 kilometres from Pamplona) exhibits the personal work of Jorge Oteiza, one of the most significant sculptors of the 20th century, and the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de HuArte 5 kilometres from the city, which houses temporary plastic and audiovisual arts exhibitions.
The city's main festivity is held from July 6th to 14th... the internationally-famous Sanfermines. The big day is July 7th, in honour of San Fermín, the co-patron saint of Navarre together with Saint Francis Xavier. November 29th is the day of San Saturnino, co-patron saint of Pamplona together with the Virgen del Camino (Madonna of the Way).
Pamplona cooks all the aromas of Navarre, from the excellent market garden vegetables of the fertile Ebro valley to the warming stews of the Mountains, as well as the products that are typical of the Pamplona basin: roast lamb, relleno (black pudding without the blood) and chistorra (a local variety of spicy sausage).
Its restaurants offer dishes to please all tastes and budgets - including one-star Michelin establishements - and it is very easy to find the most typical dishes of the area. Do not leave the city without taking a stroll around the historic quarter to try the traditional pinchos (tapas), authentic examples of haute cuisine in miniature.
There are several options for shopping: traditional shops and a market in the historic quarter, and multinational brand stores in the Ensanche (the newer part of the city centre). If you would like to take a gastronomic souvenir away with you, everything typically Navarrese can be found in Pamplona: Designation of Origin products such as the cheeses of Roncal and Idiazábal, red Piquillo peppers, asparagus, olive oil from the region or Navarra and Rioja D.O. wines. Do not forget to try pacharán, the region's highly appreciated digestive liquor made from anisette and sloe berries, or cakes such as those made by Pastas Layana or traditionally-made sweets by Garrarte.