Pamplona is pulsating

RENDEZVOUs - Christine S. Dayrit (The Philippine Star) - January 25, 2015 - 12:00am

Sometimes, we realize that the future has been planned—years ago.

In Pamplona, the capital of Navarra in the northern region of Spain, the centuries-old tradition of running with the bulls is still celebrated with pomp and pulsating energy. The future of this festival, in honor of Navarra’s patron saint San Fermin, is so rooted in its past that it resonates revelry that can be felt by anyone who participates in it — today or in the centuries to come.

The topography of Pamplona, as it is nestled in a valley and surrounded by mountains, “has been famous to human civilization since long before the town was even truly founded,” said our affable and knowledgeable Trafalgar tour director Javier Galvez as we walked though the picturesque Plaza del Castillo.  Javier added, “There is a belief that Pamplona was 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.” He continued that the town then took on a new role as a Roman military outpost for Pompey the Great, who named the town Pompaelo, in the war against Sertorius.

Winter was approaching when my best friend Bum Tenorio and I joined a Trafalgar trip to Pamplona, which started from Barcelona all the way to Zaragoza and Lourdes in France. We were in the company of the best travel agents from Manila including Helen Hao of Pan Pacific Travel Corp. (the general sales agent of Trafalgar in the Philippines), Violet Chan, Steph Ty, Regina Azurin, Angelyn Dub, Fanny Uong, Tessie Tio, Emily Gaw, Jane Chen, Rose Barrios and Melrose Ocaya.  PTV 4’s Veronica Baluyut and Peter Sicat were also part of our group.

No, we did not see thousands of locals and tourists alike running after the bulls because the San Fermin festival happens in July each year. But we walked — even ran — on the streets where the bulls and the bullfighters celebrate the festival in Pamplona.

On Estafeta street, one of the four streets where a dozen bulls run, Javier brought us to the excitement and thrill of the San Fermin festival. Estafeta is lined with stores and stalls that sell natural and spicy olive oil (both in bottle and spray can), balsamic vinegar, Jamon Serrano, Jamon Iberico and pork crackling, which is locally called chicharon, the same way we call it in the Philippines. And the taste and texture of their chicharon is the same with our local version. Fine wines are also a treat here. 

“The length of the bull run is 826 meters. It goes through four streets of the old part of the city: Santo Domingo, Town Hall Square, Mercaderes and Estafeta and a section called Telefónica before entering into the bullring. The fastest part of the route is up Santo Domingo and across the Town Hall Square, but in the past the bulls often became separated at the entrance to Estafeta street as they slowed down. One or more would slip going into the turn at Estafeta, but, with the use of the new anti-slip surfacing, most of the bulls negotiate the turn onto Estafeta and are often ahead of the steers. This has resulted in a quicker run,” said Javier.

The idea behind the bullrun on the streets —with thousands of people running behind and before the bulls, with some daredevils getting in the way or being sandwiched between rampaging bulls—is to bring the beasts to the bullring. Inside the bullring, thousands and thousands more are awaiting the bullfight. The bull run happens every day from July 7 to 14 of every year, beginning at 8 in the morning. At 8 a.m. a rocket is fired to notify runners that the bulls have been released onto the course, and the actual run takes around a few minutes, though it probably seems like a lifetime to the runners! ?

Javier said the history of the running in front of bulls is not completely clear. But he noted that it started when bullfighting became a popular pastime, and many bullrings were built. “The only way to get the bulls from the corral to the bullring was by running them through the streets to the ring. Eventually, people started running with the bulls. As every year passed, this became more and more popular, and has grown into this extremely important festival,” he said, as he brought us to the square where the old Town Hall building is located.



The old Town Hall building was erected in 1755 and is an imposing structure that brought us further to the joyous, albeit risky, festival of San Fermin. While we were in front of the Town Hall, I shared with everyone a Bollywood film I saw titled Zindagi Na MilegiDobara (You Won’t Get Another Life) wherein three childhood friends Arjun, Kabir, and Imraan meet in Spain to do three things they fear: scuba dive, jump off a plane and race with the bulls in Pamplona. I fell in love with this film and was so amazed to be in the place where it was actually shot. I love Bollywood films and Zindagi Na MilegiDobara is my favorite one.

According to Javier, the topography of Pamplona, as it is set in a valley and surrounded by mountains, has fascinated 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.

Pamplona has also been made even more famous after the publication of Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel, The Sun also Rises. The book follows a group of American and British expats whose wanderlust brought them from Paris to Pamplona to watch the bull run and the bullfight.

Javier told us Hemingway was so enamored of Pamplona that he spent much time in the town, to be with the people, to watch the bullfight, to reflect, to write. In his honor, a golden statue of him can be found inside a restaurant named Iruña, which is located on the side of Plaza del Castillo. Iruña serves the best and the thickest chocolate drink. Bum and I sat at the bar of Iruña to enjoy its famous chocolate drink with churros as we talked to some local jai alai players who said they would play in the Philippines in April.  I must say that a visit to Pamplona, if not for the bull run and bull fight, is not complete without lounging at Iruña.

It’s not just the bull run or Ernest Hemingway that has made Pamplona popular for this fabulous town has so much else to offer. In retrospect, I also remembered what Giacomo Giamboi, my Trafalgar tour director in Rome, told me about Pamplona. He said: “My insight of Pamplona is the Ciudadela. It’s the city’s massive star-shaped citadel that was built in the 16th century, back in the day when Pamplona was a major Spanish military output near the French border. Once its original military function was deemed obsolete, the whole complex was turned into what has become the city’s favorite leisure and culture area, were you can find beautiful parks, exhibition spaces and open -air contemporary sculptured gardens.”

The charming Javier also noted that in Pamplona, one should not miss visiting the Grand Hotel where Ernest Hemingway often stayed. We also witnessed the city walls established in the 15th century, the bullring, the San Nicolás entrance (Portal de San Nicolás), the Taconera gardens, the Antoniutti gardens and the new entrance (Portal Nuevo).

A visit to these precious treasures is a memorable experience.  We had a glimpse of the main square magnificently embraced by nostalgic buildings. It actually separates the old part and modern part of Pamplona. Other plazas and squares include the baroque-influenced Plaza Rodeznos, Cathedral Basílica Santa María la Real, which was built in the 13th century upon the remains of an ancient Roman cathedral. There are several other plazas and squares that proliferate in this lovely city.

Pamplona proves to me that, indeed, sometimes the future we have been searching for is already under our nose, planned a long, long time ago. In this lovely city, yesterday’s traditions are today’s source of revelry, reverence and revelation. To further discover the beauty of Pamplona’s future is to simply walk the distance to fall in love more and more with what Pamplona features.

* * *

For information on Pamplona, contact Pan Pacific Tours Corp.  the general sales agent of Trafalgar in the Philippines at 536-1265, 243-6666 or 8108551 or email trafalgarmanila@panpacifictravel.com.ph. Avail of Trafalgar’s special $50-off promo when you book and pay in full by Feb. 12. Promos for South America are also available. 

* * *

E-mail the author at miladay.star@gmail.com.

  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with