Basilica of Santa María la Real
On the fertile plain of the river Arga sits Pamplona, a city full of history and deep-rooted traditions. The streets and squares of its historic quarter still preserve a significant collection of monumental buildings dominated by its churches and medieval walls.
Pamplona is a city in which tradition and modernity live in harmony. Founded by the Roman general Pompey in 75 BC, the city grew in importance in the 10th century with the kingdom of Pamplona. During the reign of Sancho III el Mayor ( 11th century), the current route of the Way of Saint James was established through the lands of Navarre, a fact that would influence both the city’s appearance and its historic development. A visit to Pamplona, capital of the Navarre region, should begin in the “hamlets”, group of districts of medieval origin representing the seed from which today’s city grew. In the centrally located Plaza Consistorial square stands the majestic Baroque façade of the Town Hall. This building, from 1752, commemorates the union of the hamlets of San Cernín, San Nicolás and Navarrería. Next to the town hall is the Gothic church of San Saturnino or San Cernín, built in the 13th century. Its two towers, previously crowned with battlements, suggest its former defensive role. Over the old cloister stands the Baroque chapel of La Virgen del Camino, joint patron saint of the city. The neighbouring Cámara de Comptos ( 13th century), the oldest building in the city, was the site of the former Court of Auditors of Navarre, between the 14th and 19th centuries. Leaving by Calle Mayor street we come to San Lorenzo Church ( 19th century), which houses the Baroque chapel of San Fermín. On Santo Domingo Hill other buildings from the old city of Iruña (the Basque name for Pamplona) can also be seen. The Plateresque façade of the interesting Museum of Navarre, which houses an important collection of archaeological pieces and works of art, and the Gothic church of Santo Domingo, from the 16th century. The Castle square, tree-lined and surrounded by beautiful 18th-century buildings, has become the heart of the city. The Palace of Navarre, site of Navarre's government, was built in the mid-19th century and preserves its neoclassical façade (visits by prior arrangement). Outstanding inside are the Baroque style Throne Room and the Chapel’s altarpiece, as well as a portrait of King Felipe VII painted by Goya. Going down one of the adjacent streets, you arrive at the neighbourhood of La Navarrería, in the centre of which stands Santa María la Real Cathedral. The cathedral was begun in the mid-13th century, on the site of the former Romanesque cathedral, although work on it was not completed until the 16th century. This magnificent building has three Gothic style naves, as well as several neoclassical additions. The central nave is the site of the mausoleum of Charles III the Noble and his wife ( 15th century), worked in alabaster and considered one of the most important series of sculptures in Navarre. The high altar is dominated by the image of the Virgin of Santa María la Real, before which the monarchs of Navarre swore their oaths in coronation ceremonies. Equally outstanding is the Gothic cloister ( 13th-15th centuries), with its Puerta del Amparo door, the Barbazana Chapel and the Puerta Preciosa door. The Diocesan Museum contains an interesting collection of works of sacred art, outstanding among which is a group of medieval sculptures of the Virgin and several pieces of French medieval precious metalwork. Next to the cathedral site there are various noblemen's houses, such as that of the Itúrbide family, from the 17th century, which preserves the family’s coat of arms, and the Goyeneche family palace, built a century later. The city's newer districts have extensive green areas: Ciudadela Park, Taconera Park and the Media Luna Gardens are fine examples of a city that has enjoyed model urban growth. Cuisine, festivals and the surrounding area The old town is an idea place to sample the delights of the varied Navarre cuisine. In any of its restaurants you can taste the traditional produce of Navarre's vegetable gardens –asparagus, piquillo peppers, haricot-beans. Roast lamb or lamb cooked with tomatoes and peppers are the classic dishes, accompanied always by a fine wine with theNavarra Designation of Origin and a pacharán (sloe anis liqueur) to finish. If you want to get to know Pamplona and its people in full party mood, you should visit the city during the Sanfermines festivities (6 to 14 July), which have the International Tourist Interest designation. One of the biggest attractions at these festivities in honour of the city's patron saint is the running of the bulls (a tradition of running in front of the bulls), which mainly takes place on the hill of Santo Domingo, continuing afterwards along Calle Mercaderes street up to the crossroads with Estafeta, which leads to the Bullring. However, in order to take part, you should be fit, take certain precautions, such as only entering at the authorized points, running only one stretch of the route and avoid provoking the bulls. It is also important to book accommodation sufficiently in advance. 45 km from the capital of Navarre, in the historic medieval town of Olite, is the Príncipe de Viana Parador hotel. This establishment stands next to a 15th-century palace-castle, declared a National Monument, with fine towers and battlements. Near to Pamplona you can also enjoy great natural beauty sites. To the west is the Urbasa y Andía Nature Reserve. To the north, the villages and valleys of the Navarre Pyrenees offer some of the most beautiful landscapes in the entire province. The Atlantic Pyrenees, the most westerly area of the mountains, has major nature areas, such as the Bertiz Nature Reserve. One of the most important valleys is Baztán, which stretches out amidst mountains, with villages like Berroeta, Aniz, Ziga, etc, all of them with numerous medieval towers and palaces. Fine examples of these constructions can be found in the capital of the valley, Elizondo, from where you can set off to visit Urdax and Zugarramurdi, these villages being famous for their caves and for being former sites of witches' covens. The main attraction of the Eastern Pyrenees is The Way of Saint James. Coming down from France, it enters the lands of Navarre to reach Roncesvalles, a town established as a sanctuary and hospital in 1132 and a first stopping place for pilgrims. Following the chain of mountains you come to Selva de Irati, a unique nature area with one of the largest beech woods in the south of Europe. Other points of interest in the eastern Pyrenees are the Salazar Valley and Ochagavía, the most populated town in the region.