Pamplona: The Walls of an Ancient Fortress
The walls of Pamplona are incredible. They very well may be the most impressive feat of ancient fortification outside of the Great Wall of China. At a length of over five kilometers the walls protect the old city of Pamplona. Passing through the gates is like passing through the wardrobe into Narnia.
Amazingly, though the walls stretch back to the early 1400's, three quarters of the walls remain today. The citadel on the south side of the old town is almost completely intact. Experience the walls from below, where you can look up and imagine the daunting task of trying to take over the city. Walk atop the walls and bask in the fortress that the city walls created. Thankfully, today you can do both.
The construction of the walls began under the Kingdom of Navarre in medieval times. It's purpose was to provide safety and protection to its people. The walls were originally built around the three neighbouring towns of San Cremin, San Nicolas and Navarreria. This was done after 1423 when the treaty of Privilegio de la Union proclaimed the three towns united.
It became a Spanish stronghold after the incorporation of Navarre in 1515. It was used as a strategic post in fending off the French, who were just on the other side of the Pyrenees. Further fortification was ordered by King Felipe II and construction of the citadel began.
The citadel was meant to make Pamplona impenetrable to invasion. Prior to the construction of the citadel the city was still viewed as vulnerable under siege. The creation of the citadel was a modern masterpiece and continued to be used through the Spanish civil war in 1939. Currently, it is a public park that you can enter and wander around.
In 1964 the Spanish army decided to endow the citadel to the city of Pamplona. This transfer officially took place two years later, in 1966. The city began restoring and unearthing parts that had been lost over time. Due to Pamplona's work, the citadel is one of the best preserved military structures in Spain and was given the status of a National Monument.
Pamplona's oldest park was originally outside of the city's walls. However, an extension was built to incorporate the area into the protected city. The Taconera Gardens are intertwined between the two developments of the walls. What was once the Gonzaga bastion is now one of the most tranquil places in the city. There is even a moat between two of the walls where deer, peacocks and more, call home.
The old city walls used to have six gates to the city, known as portals. Many of the original portals have been moved or destroyed. Three of the portals are on the same side of the city. One is the New Portal (Portal Nuevo) which currently has a road going through it. It was built around the same time as the citadel, but was destroyed during battles in 1823. It was rebuilt during the 20th century.
The two other portals in this area are Portal de la Taconera and San Nicolás Gate. Both are located in the Taconera Gardens. Both of these portals have been moved from their original locations to where they stand now.
Portal Francia is the gate to the city that has stood the test time the best. Located to the north, it is the only gate that stands in its original location. This gateway is located near the base on the walls and is a great place to start your journey around the walls.
Journey Around the Walls
Walking on top of the city walls is a great activity. If you find yourself at the bottom, you can walk up the road or take a free elevator up to the top. When you exit the elevator, circle around it to take in the jaw dropping views.
Facing outward, if you go to the left you'll head towards Portal Nueva and the Taconera Gardens. This is a great way to head as you get hit with a ton of culture really quickly.
Quirky activity: Stand facing the corner of the wall in the New Portal. Have someone else stand on the other side, kitty corner. If one person speaks into the wall the sound will carry up and over the arched roof so the other person can hear what is said clearly.
After you wander the Taconera Gardens and see the Portal de la Taconera and San Nicolás Gate, head towards the Citadel. If you walk past Portal de la Taconera, away from Casco Antiguo, the citadel will be on your left. It should only take a few hundred steps to get there.
Walking around and exploring the citadel is a big activity, but worth doing. It is a public park now and you can roam around and inside freely. We will do a deeper look into the citadel in the future.
After the Citadel
Afterwards, head towards the Plaza de Torros. The wall, starts up again next to it. As you walk along this section of the wall you'll notice the wall gets higher and higher. The walking path itself is flat but the depth the wall drops is extensive. At the end of this first long straight stretch there will be a lookout.
Continuing onward, the path dips below the top or the wall and comes to a cobblestone intersection. If you take a right at this point, you'll head down towards the only original portal, Portal Francia. This is a good way to go if you want to study the walls from below. There is also a riverside pathway that takes you back to your original starting point.
Staying up top you have expansive views of the mountains and valley were Pamplona is situated. The wall continues straight till you get to the Royal Archives of Navarre building. At that point you head back into Casco Antiguo.
There is a short part of the wall remaining between the road up from where you started and the elevator. This stretch of wall is much like the wall at the start of your adventure. It offers terrific views while you stand high above the modern city below.
The old city walls are impressive in scale and may leave you dumbstruck. When you see them first hand and think about the time, effort, strength, and drive it would have taken to build this fortress, it's astonishing. Living with the walls must have felt like the safest place on earth. Find out for yourself. The walls of Pamplona are a triumph.