Hemingway and bull horns – our day out in Pamplona, Navarre

Basque name for the city – Iruna.

Early population in the settlement traces back to the late Bronze to early Iron Age, even if the traditional inception date refers to the foundation of Pompaelo by Pompey during circa 75 BCE. The people of this region- Navarre, are fiercely Basque. You’ll see graffiti along the roads and underpasses reiterating the need for an independent Basque nation, not being part of Spain or France.

Pamplona is famous for its annual Running of the Bulls (El Encierro), immortalized by Ernest Hemingway in his novel The Sun also Rises. The event is part of the Fiesta de San Fermín, celebrated between July 6-14.

We slept in late and after a leisurely breakfast of sandwiches and yogurt, headed into town. We took the highway route into the city and hit the shopping areas before we saw the old town. A quick look in to Decathlon to see if the Spanish store had anything interesting, then onto Zara to see their spring line. After picking up a coffee and some croissants we headed to Plaza del Castillo.

On the way there, we ran into some bulls. The Monumento al Encierro is eleven spirited bulls charging through the streets, snorting on the heels of the runners (called mozos) as they sprint toward the Plaza de Toros with all their might. A few of the runners have stumbled and fallen to the ground. The sculpture is very realistic and you can’t help imagining the bulls running through the streets you are on!

Next we happened upon the sculpture of St Ignatius of Loyola. It shows where San Ignacio de Loyola (St. Ignatius of Loyola) fell and was hurt in the defense of the Pamplona Castle. Ignacio was seriously hurt in the Battle of Pamplona in 1521. While recovering, he underwent a spiritual conversion. He decided to leave his military life and dedicate it to God. He founded the Society of Jesus in 1539. Ignatius is the patron saint of soldiers and the Basque Country.

Onto Plaza del Castillo, a pretty plaza flanked by the famous Cafe Iruna where the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner, Hemingway liked hanging out. I have only read excerpts from his books and recently watched ‘Hemingway and Gellhorn’ which is a movie based on his relationship with Martha Gellhorn (played by Nicole Kidman), also a war correspondent like him. They met in Spain when they were covering the Spanish Civil Wars.

Our next stop was the Cathedral of Pamplona. As you walk up to the spot, you pass the narrows lanes with balconies overhead and you can’t help imagining these streets during the San Fermin festival!

The cathedral is beautiful inside, with some exceptional sculpture and paintings. The most fascinating piece is really the sculptures in alabaster of King Charles III (1361-1425) and his wife Queen Leonor of Trastamara (1363-1416) – the monarchs of Navarre who commissioned the construction of the cathedral. You’ll find them facing the altar and at the feet of Our Lady. On the base of the sculpture you’ll see the mourners – all with very realistic expressions. The royal couple are buried in a crypt located underneath this.

We then headed back to our hotel, picking up some salad, empanadas and wine for dinner, from the supermercado .

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