The Pyrenees and Pilgrimage, Part 3 – Pamplona

In the north of Spain lies the Basque city of Pamplona, capital of Navarra. It’s a significant point on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella. The streets are full of pilgrims and hikers, as well as tourists taking in the charm of the old city.

img_1219

It’s a beautiful walking town, with the Spanish Pyrenees forming a dramatic backdrop and the Arga River flowing around the hilltop location. Walking routes from the Old Town take you to the  Taconera Park, full of flowers, benches, and gravel pathways. A sunken area that used to be a moat is home for a small herd of deer and several kinds of birds, including peacocks, ducks, and geese.

img_1224

The walk around the edge of the park offers views of the mountains and valley and reminds you of just how high the city is above the valley — there’s even a tram that takes passengers from the lower part of the city up to the Old City.

A short walk further and you can visit the citadel and the surrounding park. Built in the 16th and 17th centuries, massive bulwarks and stonework reveal part of the original pentagon shape. A museum there explains that the pentagon shape was once a popular design for fortification. (You can listen to the accompanying audio in several languages, including Basque, which is fascinating in itself.)

Pamplona fortress

(Photo – http://www.itinari.com)

The heart of Pamplona, and the most beautiful part, is the Old City. At its center is the Plaza del Castillo, a large square ringed with buildings, many with flowering balconies.

img_1202

img_1172

Most of the streets are cobblestone, and there are several medieval cathedrals and beautiful architecture at every turn — and lots of restaurants, many of them with seating outside, part of the famous pintxo tradition. Throughout the day, but especially beginning at around 4:00pm and lingering late into the night, small appetizers, pintxos, are served with the local wines or other beverages. This tradition makes for a lively street life, especially as the night grows and music pours out onto the narrow streets.

img_1180

img_1229

Pamplona, or Iruña as it is known in Basque, is most famous for “the Running of the Bulls” during the Festival of Saint Fermin in July. Ernest Hemingway wrote about the festival in his novel, The Sun Also Rises. And for this reason, Pamplona offers another sort of pilgrimage — a literary one. Pamplona is one of those rare locations that is specifically associated with an author. There’s a bust of Hemingway outside the bullring, and a life-size statue of him leaning against the bar at the Hotel Iruña. Photographs of him and his likeness are found throughout the city, especially in restaurants and gift shops.

H crop2

img_1258

“Pamplona certainly owes some of its fame to its adopted son, Ernest Hemingway, who spent a considerable amount of time in Navarra during the Spanish Civil War and was a big fan of the San Fermin Festival.” (www.euskoguide.com)Book cover

There was a different festival held the week I was there, with celebrations in the Plaza. The city was full of festivities, musicians and performances, and schoolchildren holding hands as they skipped to the music.

I don’t know if it was the festival or the lively pintxo culture, but Pamplona struck me as one of the happiest places I had ever visited. The streets were full of tourists and local families, couples, and friends enjoying the delightfulness of the city — sitting at crowded outdoor cafes, stopping for ice cream, enjoying the street performers and musicians, well into the night.

Copy of Pamplona night level

 

IMG_1194

Though I loved so much about Pamplona, the Iruña Hotel held a special charm for me. It was full of old-world beauty in warm shades of sepia and globes of golden lights that reflected in the carved wooden mirrors.

IMG_1162

img_1157

img_1155

IMG_1295

Sitting in the Hemingway Bar with its nooks and small balcony, it was easy to imagine an older, slower time, with people wearing different clothing and holding different conversations — and perhaps someone sitting alone at a table quietly penning a novel.

img_1170

The Pyrenees and Pilgrimage, Part 1 — Lourdes

cathedral bridge 3

The beautiful town of Lourdes, France is located in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Two structures dominate the town and its history — the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Lourdes, situated on the wide, flowing Gave de Pau, and the thousand-year-old fortress, the Chateau-Fort de Lourdes, built on a high rocky bluff.

Lourdes fort 2

Lourdes has a rich and varied history.  Artifacts dating from the prehistoric times to the Roman  have been found in the area, and “the town and its fortress formed a strategic stronghold in medieval times.” (www.Britannica.com)

However, the town is best known as a place of pilgrimage for Catholics the world over, visited by millions every year.

cathedral crop

The identity of Lourdes as a market town, mountains crossroads, and fortified stronghold forever changed in 1858 when a young girl, Bernadette Soubirous, experienced numerous visions of the Virgin Mary in a grotto near the river.

bernadette photo enlarged

“The visions were declared authentic by Pope Pius IX in 1862, and veneration of Mary as Our Lady of Lourdes was authorized. The underground spring in the grotto, revealed to Bernadette, was declared to have miraculous qualities, and Lourdes became a major pilgrimage site.” (www.britannica.com)

cathedral eve 4

Lourdes is an international destination, a place of hope for many who cannot walk or are battling sickness or a chronic condition. They line up to hear mass given in front of the grotto, and fill up bottles with the sacred grotto water from numerous taps. Behind the cathedral, alongside the river, are private bathing rooms where pilgrims line up to bathe in the waters, hoping for a cure or improvement.

 

Even in the offseason, the shops and crowds can make the place seems touristy, but the solemnity with which the pilgrims pray and believe, and the sheer beauty of the place, preserve the sense of the sacred.

cathedral way flowers

The Gothic-styled cathedral, with its soaring spires and long narrow windows, was built above the grotto in 1876. It is made of the same gray stone as the rock beneath it and seems to have risen directly from it.

L maples

cathedral river

The chateau-fort, which was never conquered, sits high above the town and is today a museum. Like the cathedral, it is made from the gray granite of the Pyrenees and appears to be a continuation of the thrust of rock on which it was built.

Lourdes fort

From the fortress top, you can see that the village itself is nestled in the strong arms of the valley mountains. The vantage point offers spectacular views of the town and valley below.

fort view 2

museum view fort

“The château fort de Lourdes is strategically placed at the entrance to the seven valleys of the Lavedan. The castle’s origins go back to Roman times….The oldest remains date from the 11th and 12th centuries” and were reinforced several times in later centuries. (www.wikipedia.com)

 

“Within its walls there is a botanical garden at the foot of the 14th-century keep, and the Pyrenean Museum.” (en.lourdes-infotourisme.com)

museum stone

The museum is filled with artifacts and offers a glimpse into local life of the past centuries. Several exhibits are dedicated to marriage customs, clothing, farming and husbandry, and day-to-day living.

museum baby 2

 

 

 

 

museum bedroom

As daytime draws to a close, the crowds disperse, the sounds of the day shift to the soft sounds of evening, and a tranquil beauty pervades Lourdes.

 

Cathedral eve

From one of the bridges over the river, you can look back and see the cathedral and, in the distance, the fort. These two main structures of Lourdes — perhaps representative of two opposing human impulses — today rest comfortably together in the valley town.

cathedral candles tree lit

With the church bells ringing, the grotto candles lit, and the lights coming on in the town, you realize that Lourdes is unique — a sacred site of hope and prayer, rich in layers of history — a town born of the awe-inspiring beauty of the Pyrenees.