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Spanish in Pamplona

Learn Spanish in Pamplona

Firmly rooted halfway up the Spanish Pyrenees, Pamplona is described in more than one Pamplona city guide as one of the most picturesque cities in the northern half of the country. Placid, peaceful and famously welcoming, this small regional capital would likely still be immersed in the most recondite anonymity, had it not been for the candid liking one Ernest Hemingway took to the city, making it feature in a number of his most famous novels, most notably The Sun Also Rises (1926).

Toro Clearly establishing a historic landmark in the general appraisal of Navarre's customs, landscape and traditions, Hemingway narrated the adventures of a group of young men who came across unusual, and rather unique, practices in a small mountain village. Ironically this hugely successful account almost immediately turned those practices into highly popular, widely known and continuously depicted traditions. At least, so much is true of the Feast of San Fermín and the (in)famous corrida through the narrow lanes of the city, racing against the rage and speed of crazed bulls.

But apart from the celebrations that revolve around the feast day of the patron saint of Navarre, if you go to learn Spanish in Pamplona you will realise it is quite the opposite: quaintly picturesque and unequivocally comfortable in its status as a small city, Pamplona moves at a slow, almost stately, pace, untroubled by the vicissitudes of a modern era that has arrived and taken root in the country, but that still hasn't – and perhaps never will be– been able to change the millenary ways of a place that, since its creation, bears the same regal distinction as its founder, Pompeius Magnus.

Established in the I century BC by the great Roman general during the episode of the Roman Civil War known as the Sertorian War, Pompaelo, as it was then known, was likely erected on the ashes of, or very nearby, the main settlement of local Vascones, who together with various other tribes and under the command of Quintus Sertorius, fought against the Roman army. That is the origin of the present custom to use two names for the city, the Spanish Pamplona, or the Basque Iruña.

During the early Middle Ages, and especially following the Muslim conquest of the vast majority of the peninsula in the VIII century, Pompaelo was often dominated by tribes of Frankish origin, from the other side of the Spanish Pyrenees. And even when it was not, the city became one of the Christian enclaves developed and reinforced by Charlemagne to keep Muslim armies from raiding what today is France. Thus, as part of the Marca Hispánica or Spanish March, Pompaelo established itself as a Christian stronghold and crucial spot in the future progress of the Reconquista.

It was precisely during the early days of the struggle between Christians and Muslims that Pamplona gained most prominence within the alliance, as it became the seat of the lord of the entire valley overlooked from the Deyo, a peak currently known as Monjardín. This was the earliest form of what later would become the Reyno de Navarra, which, towards the middle of the XI century, would bring the first semblance of unity to the Iberian peninsula, when Sancho Garcés III would proclaim himself Imperator totius Hispaniae, Emperor of All Spains, including the Muslim portion.


Strangely, during the heyday of the Navarrese kingdom, Pamplona developed, not as a single city, but rather as three separate, competing and belligerent boroughs. The first and original settlement, corresponding to the nucleus of the Roman city, came to be known as the Navarrería, since most of its inhabitants were locals. But soon thereafter Frankish settlers were imported in order to boost the population of the area and guard it from future Muslim attacks. Thus, the borough of San Cernín was created first, and soon thereafter that of St Nicholas. Within less than a century, Pamplona had been transformed from a uniform rural town into three utterly different villages, setting the stage for one of the most persistent of Spanish wars.

Eventually, Charles III of Navarre joined the three competing bourgs and forever forged the union that would shape Pamplona to this day. Nowadays, Pamplona celebrates de diversity of its origins, boasting the remains of the ancient walls, the structures of the different churches and the intricate paths that shape the historic centre of the city as clear evidence to its complex and rich past. Pamplona, however, is neither stuck in the past nor obsessed with Modernity. Instead, it sits placidly half-way up the Spanish Pyrenees, living at its own pace and still capably fulfilling the role that is expected of a regional capital.