Pamplona History & People

Early History

Set in a valley and surrounded by mountains, Pamplona's location has attracted human civilization since long before Pamplona was even truly founded. It is widely believed to have been the most important town - named Iruña, or "the city" in Basque - of the Vascons, an ancient civilization and probable ancestors of today's Basque people. The town took on a new role as a Roman military outpost for Pompey the Great, who named the town Pompaelo, in the war against Sertorius. Today, the Navarrería part of Pamplona follows the same urban layout as the Roman town.

Middle Ages

As we know, the once-mighty Roman Empire didn't last forever, and when it went into decline it took with it the prosperity that Pompaelo had begun to enjoy. The Visigoths then saw their chance to step in, and for the following four centuries (4 AD - 8 AD) they ruled, albeit with plenty of resistence from the ever-independent Vascons. The Visigoths were ousted in the 8th century by the Moors, whose short-lived reign of Pamplona was a back-and-forth battle for control with Charlemagne, who was looking to expand the French empire.

Despite the revolving door of rulers, the Vascons remained united and independent and eventually garnered enough power amongst their own to break away from the sparring Moorish and French rivals. Due to the military nature that practically defines the trajectory of its history, Pamplona at this point was little more than a fortress. To this day, however, its establishment as the first true Vascon city, and therefore possible the first Basque city, continues to give Pamplona - or Iruña - strong historical and cultural ties to Basque culture.

By the 10th century, the Vascons even formed a kingdom, the precursor to what would soon be the kingdom of Navarra. Pamplona became known as the "soul of the land of the Vascons".

The 11th century marked Pamplona's golden years, fueled by economic development and Pamplona's location along the Camino de Santiago. This religious pilgrimage to the Galician city of Santiago de Compostela, which is still completed by thousands each year, sparked commercial and cultural exchanges with the countries and cultures of Europe on the other side of the Pyrenees.

The 12th century was full of ups and downs for Pamplona. The city enlarged and two new boroughs were founded near Old Pamplona. The three would eventually unite into a single city in 1423, but for centuries the three boroughs were constantly immersed in internal quarrels; in fact, each borough even erected defensive walls to defend themselves from one another.

16th Century Through Today

Maintaining its own laws and institutions, Pamplona continued to serve as capital city of the now-Spanish kingdom of Navarra when it was incorporated into Spain in the early 16th century. Pamplona became one of the Spanish crown's key defensive outposts on the French border; with that in mind, King Felipe II ordered new fortifications to be built and defensive walls to be modernized.

By the 18th century, Pamplona was essentially a great place to be. The influx of wealth brought with it clergy and rich aristocrats, who built their mansions and saw to the overall improvement of the city: roads were paved, fountains were erected, a running water system was installed, old buildings were restored, new buildings were constructed, etc.

Unfortunately, the fortress city couldn't expand beyond its defensive walls due to its military function, especially during the 19th century when Spain was plagued by wars. As a result, the constrained city suffered economically and couldn't modernize like other cities during the Industrial Revolution. The walls, deemed obsolete against modern military tactics and artillery, surrounding the city were in place until 1915, when many of them were finally taken down to allow the city to grow. For the now liberated Pamplona, the 20th century became almost immediately became defined by growth- social, cultural, technological, economic, urban, etc.

Today, Pamplona has one of the best standards of living in Spain. Its residents enjoy parks and leisure areas, a high level of industry, good education and health systems, low crime rates and a beautiful, tranquil and friendly city.