The capital of Navarre is at its geographical centre. It has been the backbone for the region for centuries, and this continues to be the case today.
Pamplona and its metropolitan area houses half the population of Navarre and most of its industrial resources and trade. At the same time, Pamplona is a city of services. Healthcare, both public and private, is concentrated around the Navarre Hospital Complex and the Navarra University Clinic. Education is of special importance in the city. Three universities keep city life young, encourage cultural activities and create wealth. A city the size of Pamplona necessarily benefits from the more of 60,000 graduates that form part of its population.
By motorway, Zaragoza is 109 miles away and Barcelona, 300. Madrid is 255 miles away, by motorway and A-roads. Vitoria is one hour away on the motorway and connects with the motorway to Bilbao, 100 miles from Pamplona. The Leizarán motorway provides a safe and comfortable drive to San Sebastián -57 miles- with wonderful scenery and the beautiful La Concha beach at under an hour's drive from Pamplona. The Belate tunnels lead to France through Irun. A ring road keeps heavy traffic out of the city and connects the centre to the residential and industrial outskirts.
From Noain airport, next to Pamplona, there are daily flights to Madrid. Navarre in general, and Pamplona in particular, have made an enormous effort in recent years to improve their communications with the rest of the country and cross the Pyrenean border. There are safe motorways to travel the 203 miles to Bordeaux and the 267 to Toulouse and there are fast rail connections.
The city is in the midland area and thus benefits from the transition from an ocean to Mediterranean climate. The Atlantic influence brings damp winds from the north-west with frequent rain -134 days a year and an annual rainfall of 833 mm- high relative humidity, around 70%, and gentle temperatures -the annual mean is 12°C. The influence of the Mediterranean which is predominant in the riverside area, leads to dry summers with very hot days in July and August.
The old fortifications and military land have been transformed into public parks in the heart of the city. Examples are La Taconera, next to the northern wall; Vuelta del Castillo, with the perfectly preserved military complex of the Citadel, built in the 16th century; and the Media Luna, over the Arga gardens and the Magdalena orchards. These have been joined by the Biurdana, Mendillorri, Aranzadi, Arga river and Mundo parks and the Japanese-style Yamaguchi park.
This list of green areas has to be added to the large and well cared-for campuses of the public and private universities. The people of Pamplona have a large number of recreational areas at their disposal: 17 m2 of green area per inhabitant.
The strategic site over the Arga has always been a settlement from ancient times. Romanisation -Pamplona owes its name to General Pompeius- took place during the 1st century BC on an old Basque settlement. The Christianisation of the region and the cultural presence of Rome reinforced the consolidation of Pamplona as the political and religious capital. After Visigoth, Moslem and Carolingian episodes, the city became strongly positioned in the second half of the 9th century within the emerging Christian nucleus, in opposition to the progress of Islam. The Jimena dynasty, in the 10th century, gave rise to the Kingdom of Pamplona, which started to be known as the Kingdom of Navarre in 1164.
There is not one medieval Pamplona, but three. The Navarrería district was on the primitive Basque settlement and housed the local inhabitants. The borough of San Cernin housed the influential group of Francs, bourgeois and traders, most of them from France. San Nicolás was the third settlement in Pamplona, with a population of more mixed origins and classes, the source of what Pamplona was to be in the future.
This division remained in place throughout the 13th and 14th centuries, with a series of conflicts and violence preventing the city from developing. Charles III the Noble put an end to secular division in 1423. The city forgot the conflicts between brothers and embarked upon an age of development, as shown by the architecture of the Cathedral, with its late Gothic cloister and the superb tomb, sculpted by Burgundian artists, in which the remains of Charles III the Noble rest alongside his wife, Leonor of Castile.
The political crisis which shook Navarre during the 15th century was used by Castile to invade Navarre and lay siege to the capital. It acquired a new strategic value as a fortified city against the permanent threat of an invasion from the enemy of the Spanish crown, France. Important fortification work was carried out from the 16th to the 18th century to make the city a bastion against the much feared French attack.
Pamplona was to remain inside its walls until the early 20th century. In 1905, the walls fell from La Taconera to Labrit so that the city could grow orderly towards the south. This was the source of the Second Enlargement -the first, timid growth around the Citadel, had taken place in 1888-. From the Plaza del Castillo, new roads were planned and built similar to the system used by Cerdá in Barcelona.
In the last few years, the city has grown in an ordered manner, respecting recreational areas and providing fluid communications. The recent inauguration of the Baluarte Convention Centre and Auditorium has become a symbol of the modernity of a city which continues to respect its history, pedestrianising the old city centre and part of the new area, restoring the Palacio de Capitanía to house the General Archive of Navarre and recently creating plans to recover the city walls.
Immortalised by Hemingway in "The sun also rises", the Sanfermines are the most universal celebration in Pamplona and, indeed, in Navarre. On the 6th of July every year, the "chupinazo" (a firework rocket) is launched from the balcony of the Town Hall and this is the signal for the fiesta to start. Indeed, it continues until "Pobre de mí" is sung on the 14th. The city explodes into life and both visitors and locals dressed in red and white fill its streets, enjoying the music and the party atmosphere in the streets.
For nine days, they all make the most of the rituals and customs that make the Sanfermines special. One of these customs consists of the "running of the bulls". Every morning, runners test their nerves and physical condition pursued by the horns of the bulls which will be fought that afternoon in the bullring.
Historians tell us that this fiesta arose from a combination of three different festivals: religious festivals in honour of San Fermín which had been taking place from time immemorial, the trade fairs organised from the 14th century on, and the bullfights that started in the 14th century. The popularity of the Sanfermines reached its peak in the 20th century. The novel written by Ernest Hemingway in 1926 encouraged people from all over the world to visit Pamplona at this time of year. The last century has also seen the inclusion of new aspects, such as the "Riau-Riau", the "Chupinazo" or the cultural programme.