Plaza del Castillo: The Place to Be While in Pamplona
If you're looking for history, culture, food, and a good time, you'll find it here. Pamplona's historic plaza may have been around for centuries but it is far from getting old. This large square sits on artifacts, is named after a castle and was once used for bullfighting. When you're in Pamplona, Plaza del Castillo is the place to be.
This nerve center of culture and cuisine has everything that you'll be looking for to have a good time. It is the mecca of Pamplona culture and the home of many festivals. If you're not sure where to go or what to do when in the city, go to the Casco Antiguo (Old Town) and immerse yourself in all that Plaza del Castillo has to offer.
The name Plaza del Castillo, which translates to Castle Plaza, comes from the fact that there have been two castles that once stood on these grounds in the 1300's. That castle has long been demolished as the need for fortification diminished due to the building of the nearby citadel.
Prior to the castle this area was considered a disputed area and was more or less a no man's land. The unification of the three towns that became Pamplona happened under the reign of the Navarre and France King, Luis El Hutin. At this time, the first castle was built.
The second castle was built to replace the first castle after it fell into disrepair. This second castle stood for many years before it was demolished due to a new defensive strategy being adopted for the city in the late 1500's.
Between the 1600's to 1843 the plaza was closed off and used as a bullfighting arena. Since that time it has been used as the main metropolitan hub and is the cosmopolitan center of the city.
There is no uniform look to the plaza as it was not constructed at one time. Due to this unorthodox way of constructing Plaza del Castillo, it looks distinctive. The plaza itself is made up of many different beverage and dining focused establishments, many of them with lazy patios.
Plaza del Castillo is known as the living room of Pamplona and is without a doubt the best place to people watch. There is almost always something going on that is worth seeing and musing about. The largest of the festivals is San Fermin, which culminates in The Running of the Bulls.
This 14,000 square meter (>150k square foot) plaza offers free wifi, provided by the city. There are public washrooms and drinking fountains. There are many benches near the treed areas that frame the plaza and allow views of all that is going on.
The most recent remodeling of the plaza happened between 2001 and 2003. At this time a parking lot was installed underneath. During the construction an unknown part of the old fortification wall was discovered along with some other artifacts. The artifacts were removed and the old wall was incorporated into the parking lot.
In the centre of the plaza is a beautiful gazebo that was installed in 1943. Previously, there was a wooden gazebo that replaced a fountain that dated back to the 18th century. A portion of the original fountain can be found as part of the "La Mariblanca" statue in La Taconera Gardens.
The North Side
The north side of the square is a vibrant area with a lot of history and culture. The focal point of the north wall is the New Casino building. This building is made of red brick with green wrought iron terrace railing and shutters. The bottom floor is being occupied by the Iruna Cafe. The patio of Cafe Iruna is often covered by a large white awning donning it's name.
The Iruna Cafe has been an institution of Plaza del Castillo since 1888. It was the first establishment in Pamplona to have electricity. The inside of this cafe remains relatively unchanged since its inception. It prides itself on providing the sensation that "time has stopped" when you open their doors.
Ernest Hemingway was a frequent guest of the Iruna Cafe. He was such a popular figure in the area that there is a bust of him, within the cafe. Hemingway wrote parts of five different novels here including "The Old Man and the Sea"
The far right corner of the north wall has the Hotel La Perla. Although it was renovated in 2007, it is the oldest hotel in the city. Opened in 1881 it has hosted distinguished guests including, Orson Wells and Charles Chaplin.
The South Side
The south side of the plaza is the only part of the plaza that isn't mainly for recreational purposes. This area is mostly made up of two large imperial looking buildings. The large space between these two robust buildings is the pedestrian Avenida (Avenue) de Carlos III.
The right building is the Palacio de Diputatcion, which is a government building. The entrance to it is down Avenida de Carlos II and not technically in Plaza del Castillo. Regardless, it is worth walking the fifty paces to study its architecture.
The left is a financial institution. It's hard design lines are softened by the ground floor arches. The upper floors have wrought iron terraces. Next to the bank, in the pedestrian street is a statue of King of Navarre Carlos II. He was the king who unified the three disputing towns into what is now known as Pamplona.
East and West
The east and west sides of the square are full of interesting shops and restaurants. They offer different specials and deals depending on the time of day and day of the week. You could easily spend a day hopping from one to the other and not getting to the end of them.
The square is full of housing on many of the buildings throughout the east and west sections of the plaza. Interestingly, there is only one building in the entire square that does not have any terraces. This lack of terraces is because this is where the bullpens were when Plaza del Castilllo was used as a bullfighting arena.
Known as the living room of the city, Plaza del Castillo is the nerve center of Pamplona. If you're looking for a night out on the town, it's a great place to start. If you want to enter a place where time stands still, it's discovered here. If you want to have a coffee and people watch, you can't find a better place than this. Plaza del Castillo has been around for hundreds of years but will never get old.
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