On the road to Spain: Pamplona – treasures in the Cathedral and the Museum of Navarra

In November 2019, we spend four nights in Pamplona on the Agra River exploring the City and the treasures in the Cathedral Santa Maria La Real and in the Museum of Navarra.


The Cathedral of Santa Maria La Real

The Cathedral of Santa Maria La Real is located above the river Agra. The church was built in the 14/15th century and is of gothic style. The choir with the stalls is in front, which makes the nave open and uncongested (differing from many Spanish cathedrals, where the choir is in the middle of the nave impeding the view of the overall beauty of the nave).

The statue of Maria from the 12th century sits under the silver baldachin.

Carlos III the Noble and his wife are buried in front of the choir. The15th century tomb slab made of alabaster has been beautifully carved. Carlos III is the king that managed to make peace between the local Navarrese and the “foreign” Franconians. The latter had immigrated to Pamplona in the 11th century and had kept on living in a town district of their own, even separated by a town wall. Carlos III mediated between the antagonists, pulled down the wall and constructed the townhall at the former borderline. With respect, I look at him.

And with respect, his subjects mourned, as the beautiful small statues around the tomb illustrate.

In the gangway to the cloister, I find this elegant spiral staircase.

The filigree arches in the cloister seem to dance.

Bishop Barbazán was buried in the chapter house in 1355. A small angel seems to adjust his cushion carefully.

The refectory looks like it was a stylish place to eat. It was built around 1300 and measures 30mx10m.

Nearby is the kitchen from the 14th century, with the long-long chimney.

Attached to the cloister is the Museo Diocesano with the exhibition “Occident” that illustrates the history of Christian culture in Europe.


The Museum of Navarra

We spend a full day in the Museum of Navarra that shows exhibits from archaeology and art that are related with the history of Navarra from prehistoric times until today.

The Museum is located in a former hospital. On the terrace, we find a great view of the Pyrenees and the city.

In the halls about Romanesque, we study Hiob’s fate in detail. Maestro del Claustro de la Catedral de Pamplona created it in the 12th century. The happy days of Hiob, his fall and his resurgence are illustrated on all four sides of the column. This is Hiob living happily with his family and his animals.

I very much like the elegance of this ox and donkey, a fragment from a nativity sculpture from the Cathedral of Pamplona.  Maestro Estebán made it in the 12th century.

The ivory case “Arqueta de Leire” has been carved by Maestro Faray in Córdoba during the Umayyad Caliphate (up to 1031). It shows fine hunting scenes. The representation of human beings and animals is unusual for Islamic work of art. The case is from the Monasterio de San Salvator de Leyre. One of the inscriptions says “En el nombre de Allah”.

Goya painted a friend of his, Marqués de San Adrián. A noble young man in elegant velvet trousers. He has taken off his hat which creates an atmosphere of casualty and confidentiality.

The Museum is proud of their Mapa de Abauntz. Never have I seen a prehistoric map engraved on a stone. It is the most ancient map ever found, about 13’000 years old. Abauntz is a cave located about 25km north of Pamplona.

Panels explain what archaologists found on the map: Rivers, mountais and places for hunting goats (cabras) and other animals.

These maps are not as easy to read as the Swiss topological Maps of today… I admire the imagination of the archaeologists.

From the necropolis of Castejón (about 80km south of Pamplona), this charming horse shaped urn cover has been brought to the Museum of Navarra.

We spent a full day in this interesting Museum of Navarra – to be recommended! Especially on the rainy days that we experience now.

Next we explore the surroundings of Pamplona, Punta de Reina and Laguardia.


Sources: Marion Golder: “Nordspanien und der Jakobsweg”, Dumont Reise-Handbuch, Ostfildern 2018 and “Museo de Navarra”, edited by the Gobierno de Navarra.

On the road to Spain: Via Zubiri to Pamplona

In November 2019, we are traveling through France to Spain. From our first stop in Spain, Roncesvalles, we drive to Pamplona, with a stop over in Zubiri.

Source: Googlemaps


Crossing foggy and rainy hills to Zubiri with the Puente de la Rabia

From Roncesvalles, the road leads over two passes. The rainfall never stops and we feel compassion with the humpy pilgrims that, hidden under their rain capes (covering their back bags as well), bravely walk along the path of St. James crossing the main road from time to time. It has been raining for a week now, and there is no end in sight for at least another week. I do not know, whether I would feel like joining the pilgrims walking in the rain. I am pretty sure that I prefer to remain dry in our car, while our windscreen wipers go “swish-swish-swish”.

The villages on the way are full with guest houses for pilgrims. Good business, since the 11th century.

Zubiri is known for the medieval Puente de la Rabia over the river Agra. The Way of St. James crosses the bridge.

The bridge cures animals suffering from rabies – this is the legend. It seems that relics of Santa Quiteria, a martyr from the second century, have been found here. She would calm barking dogs and for this reason, she became known for curing rabia. Somewhat interesting. Nevertheless, I would not miss vaccination against rabia, when traveling to countries, where I could come across it, even after having been on this bridge.

People cross the rabies bridge with their umbrellas. Yes, it IS raining.

After Zubiri the valley opens and the mountains recede. We reach the basin of Pamplona.


Pamplona – known for their bulls

In Pamplona, we settle in the business hotel Los Tres Reyes, conveniently located, where the old city begins. Three kings, this alludes to the union of the kings of Navarra, Castilia and Aragon.

The city is known for bullfighting. In July (Sanfermin), the bulls run from their corrales through the narrow streets of the city center to the bullfight arena. Young men dressed in white with red scarves and red belts run with them, a pretty dangerous event. That is reflected in the shops. They sell the typical outfit and they also remind of Hemingway who has described Sanfermin in his novel “the sun also rises”.

Shop windows show videos about Sanfermin and childrens’ toy shops have sets to practice bullfighting.

This is the entrance to the bullfighting arena.

Bullfighting is not really for me… I fell in love with Pamplona for other reasons, namely for the nice old town that invites for strolling and for all the works of art we found in the Cathedral and in the Museum of Navarra. Let me talk about some impressions in the city center first.


Strolling through the old city center of Pamplona

Not far from our hotel, St Francis welcomes us on the namesake square. He seems to have a discussion with this wolf.

There are various Palaces in the city, with the Tribunal de Cámara de Comptos Reales being the oldest. It was built in gothic style in the 13th century. The public finances are controlled here.

The town hall or Casa Constitutional was constructed by Charles III the Noble in the 15th century at the point where two city districts fighting one another had their frontiers. In one district lived the Navarrians, in the second district the Franconians. Charles III is called “the Noble”, because he succeeded to mediate between the two antagonizing parties. The town hall was reconstructed in the 19th century, but the baroque facade was preserved.

The Romanesque church of San Saturnino is from the 12/13th century.

It is of defiant stance. This is the tower with the narthex.

Inside the narthex, the tympanon above the porch presents the Last Judgment with Paradise and Hell.

A service is going on inside the church. We attend it for a little while. The priest in front of the altar wears a red gown. The altar is decorated with white flowers. What a solemn atmosphere under the sober Romanesque vaults!

We leave the service and continue to walk through the narrow streets. Never before have we seen so many draperies and in some of them tailors are working at their sewing machines.

This backyard has been turned into a vegetable garden. What a great initiative.

The habitants call it “Pipparika” which might be Basque.

Inside the city, we find many small bars that sell pintxos (called tapas elsewhere in Spain). Great for short breaks, when strolling through the streets.

Walking along the fortifications of Pamplona tops our visit. It was the Spanish-Habsburgian king Philipp II who had fortified the city in the late 16th century, because he feared a French invasion. Part of the wall and the bastions have been kept until today and allow for a nice walk with a great view of the Pyrenees.

Sources: “Sehenswürdigkeiten und interessante Gebäude” von Tourismus Navarra und Marion Golder: “Nordspanien und der Jakosbweg”, Dumont Reise-Handbuch, Ostfildern 2018.