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A living military heritage: The resurgence of the fortifications of Pamplona

José-Vicente VALDENEBRO GARCÍA, PhD Architect

From the moment Pompey set up camp in 74 BC around where the Cathedral stands today, Pamplona acquired its status as a stronghold. Its strategic position giving it control over the western Pyrenean passes into the Iberian peninsula meant that it came to be regarded as “one of the principal keys to Spain and its most secure bulwark on this side of the border” and that it therefore had the character of a walled city until the early years of the 20th century. The stone sections of wall that have survived until today represent a perfect example of the transition from the medieval defensive system to Renaissance modernity in terms of military engineering and technical innovation.

Of special note is the pentagonal fortress, designed by the engineer Jacobo Palear el Fratín and Captain General Vespasiano Gonzaga, following a commission from Philip II in 1571. It is the first such structure to be built in the Iberian Peninsula. Some of the era’s most prestigious military engineers, such as Tiburcio Spannochi, Ignacio Sala, Jorge Próspero de Verboom, Antonio Hurtado and Juan Martín Zermeño, were responsible for the expansion and completion of the defences, both of the city and the citadel, over the 17th and 18th centuries.

Image 1. Orthophoto of the historic centre of Pamplona, 2010.

Image 2. Eighteenth century walled enclosure superimposed on orthophoto of Pamplona

1. San Bartolomé Fort [Interpretation Centre for the Pamplona Fortifications]; 2. Labrit Bastion; 3. Obispo Barbazán parapet walk [Magdalena Front]; 4. Santa María la Real´s Cathedral; 5. Redin Bastion; 6. Low bastion of Our Lady of Guadalupe; 7. Ravelin of the Kings; 8. Francia or Zumalacárregui Gate; 9. Low bastion of El Pilar; 10. El Abrevador Bastion; 11. General Archive of Navarra [old Palace of the Kings]; 12. Town Hall; 13. Parma Bastion; 14. Rochapea Gate [demolished in 1914]; 15. Parapet walk – France Front; 16. New Gate [demolished in 1906]; 17. Gonzaga Bastion; 18. San Roque Fort [demolished]; 19. San Roque Ravelin; 20. Taconera Bastion; 21. Taconera Gate [demolished in 1905]; 22. Victoria Bastion [demolished in 1880]; 23. Santiago Bastion; 24. Santa María Bastion; 25. Real Bastion and Cavalier; 26. San Antón Bastion; 27. Santa Teresa Ravelin [demolished in 1889]; 28. Santa Ana Ravelin; 29. Santa Isabel Ravelin and Counterguard; 30. Santa Clara Ravelin and Counterguard; 31. Santa Lucía Ravelin; 32. Socorro Gate; 33. Main Gate of the citadel; 34. Guardhouse; 35. Oven; 36. Gunpowder block; 37. Magazine; 38. Weapons Hall; 39. Prince´s Fort; 40. San Nicolás Ravenlin and Gate [demolished in 1906]; Queen´s Bastion and Cavalier; 41. Tejería Ravelin and Gate [demolished in 1915].

The loss of the walls’ defensive efficacy due to advances in artillery, combined with strong demographic growth, meant that they became a hindrance to the city and thus an enemy to be demolished. The development of the urban area led to the demolition in 1889 of two of the citadel’s bastions, to allow construction of the first enlargement, and the same fate befell its southern front, between 1915 and 1921, to make way for construction of the second enlargement. The portion preserved, built between the 16th and 18th centuries, was declared a National Monument (the walled enclosure in 1939 and the citadel in 1973), constituting one of the most interesting and best preserved bastioned defensive complexes in contemporary Europe.

Image 3. General view of the Magdalena and France fronts

Image 4. General view of the France and Rochapea fronts [Prieto]

A decade of improvements in conservation and promotion [2002-2011]

Aware of its value and potential, Pamplona City Council promoted various activities aimed at the conservation and enhancement of its fortifications from the time when they were ceded to the city by the Ministry of War. Worth highlighting are the works carried out since 2002 and, above all, the crucial impetus in 2006 for the recovery of the entire walled enclosure and its surroundings. For this, a plan for the conservation and promotion of the Pamplona fortifications was drawn with the following objectives:

- Manage, preserve and enrich the historic urban landscape of the walled city (old town of Pamplona). Contemporary architecture would be integrated into the historic urban landscape in order to avoid altering its original design.

- Adapt the patrimony to new functions and demands. The functional restoration of the patrimony would turn it into a cultural, tourist and economic attraction by creating attractive spaces in which to live, visit and invest.

- Understand and organise the historic city for the well-being of its residents and visitors. New functions and activities would be integrated, incorporating functional improvements in areas such as housing, parking, public premises and public spaces.

- Make the walled area accessible throughout its entire route.

- Raise awareness within the citizens of Pamplona and Navarre about the tangible and intangible importance of its capital’s fortifications, as well their historical and future value.

- Turn Pamplona into an international reference point on defensive heritage, empowering the city as a cultural tourism destination through its heritage resources.

The plan was set out over three axes: the first, aimed at performing specific conservation and restoration actions on the monument; the second, carrying out functional improvements in the environment as regards accommodation, public spaces and disabled access; and the third, centred on the revitalisation and promotion of the walled enclosure itself with the aim of spreading its historical and architectural values.

Image 5. Citadel of Pamplona

Between 2002 and 2011 over twenty initiatives were developed, from the restoration of the Taconera Gate in 2002 to finalising the restoration of the outer defences of the Pamplona Citadel in 2011. Among the other actions carried out were: the redevelopment of the sentry walk along the Magdalena and Francia fronts [2003]; restoration of the Francia front [2004-2007]; paving of the Citadel’s inner walkways [2006]; the building of a new bus station that enabled the reconstruction of the walls, moat, counterscarp and glacis of the Santa Lucía ravelin [2007]; restoration of the wall sections and redevelopment of the sentry walk adjacent to the General Archive of Navarre, former Palace of the Viceroys of Navarre [2009]; restoration of the Taconera complex with work on the sentry walk, Gonzaga bastion, Taconera bastion, San Roque ravelin and Portal Nuevo/New Gate [2009]; restoration of the Rochapea front and development of the Plaza Virgen de la O [2010]; restoration of the Citadel’s outer defences with work on the counterguards and ravelins of Santa Clara and Santa Isabel, on the Santa Ana ravelin and the Socorro Gate [2011].

Image 6. Santa Clara ravelin and counterguard: before [l] and after [r] the restoration works

Image 7. New bus station and rehabilitation of Santa Lucía ravelin and glacis, Citadel of Pamplona

These activities were complemented by three important actions in the area of urban mobility and accessibility: the construction of two lifts in the Rochapea front which connect this area with the Calle Descalzos in the city’s Old Quarter, spanning a 30-metre drop [2008]; the Media Luna urban lift, spanning a 20-metre drop [2010]; and a 73-metre pedestrian walkway next to the Labrit bastion that joins the Old Quarter to the Second Enlargement [2010]. These fulfilled the dream of connecting areas that the ramparts and the very orography of the place had separated historically, creating new pedestrian axes and turning the sentry wall walk into a pleasant circular path of almost five kilometres in length.

Image 8. Urban lifts, Rochapea-Calle Descalzos [Cutillas]

Image 9. Media-Luna urban lift and Labrit pedestrian footbridge [de Luis]

At the start of 2011 restoration of the small fort of San Bartolomé was coming to an end, marking its conversion into the Interpretation Centre for the Pamplona Fortifications. It is a singular building, the last element in the fortification erected in the late 18th century, which re-opened its doors as a meeting and reception point for citizens and visitors, as a space that explains, in a didactic, participative way adapted to different ages and abilities, the evolution of the walls of Pamplona and the progress and refinement of techniques of attack and defence. It is a place where the visitor is taken nearer to the way of life and the traditions within the stronghold; a place in which the walls of Pamplona are placed in relation to other Spanish, European and American fortifications.

Image 10. San Bartolomé Fort – Interpretation Centre for the Pamplona Fortifications

Image 11. San Bartolomé Fort – Interpretation Centre for the Pamplona Fortifications

From this centre a pleasant, totally accessible stroll can be enjoyed for over five kilometres along the edge of the wall. This tour is enhanced by interpretive panels and tables with infographics explaining the development of the walled complex and information in several languages and the Braille reading system.

Image 12. Interpretive Tables

The Pamplona walls, in their day a barrier due to their defensive function, are nowadays a place of recreation and an integrative element of the city’s cultural and environmental heritage. The immediate environment of the walls has become a meeting point and connecting link for the city’s districts, in an urban wall adapted to the times and incorporating modern facilities. There have been numerous discussions and plans about how to proceed with walled enclosures, but few cities have moved from the world of ideas to reality. Pamplona has achieved a perfect balance between conservation and functionality. The new uses have become an opportunity for the rehabilitation and enrichment of the city’s urban landscape, as well as for archaeological research and the restoration of the monument.

To sum up, over twenty initiatives with a total investment of over 80 million euros, among which are included some new facilities and infrastructure (bus station, underground car parks, interpretation centre, etc.) and their integration has become an opportunity for enabling archaeological research and restoration of the monument. These actions were possible thanks to an active quest for economic resources that resulted in co-financing by the Government of Navarre, the Government of Spain and the European Union.

This effort was recognised with a double award in the 2012 edition of European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage - Europa Nostra Awards: a prize in the conservation category and the special Public Choice Award.

Image 13. Ravelin of the Kings, through whose moat the Camino de Santiago runs [Garzarón]

Once these objectives had been achieved, and after all the work and resources invested, it was essential not to fall into self-satisfaction and allow external agents to cause pathologies again with the passage of time in the sections of wall and restored structures. With this outlook, a Maintenance and preventive conservation plan was drawn up, based on a systematic working method that makes it possible to identify, evaluate, detect and control risks of deterioration in the monument.

Carrying out this work on a continuing basis is key to the sustainability of the heritage and therefore the only way of avoiding its rapid deterioration and the need to undertake new and costly initiatives. These tasks are awarded to companies specializing in heritage conservation, who also carry out activities related to improving accessibility, signage and the interpretation of the monument.

Image 14. Citadel of Pamplona. Santa Isabel ravelin and counterguard [Garzarón]

Fortius Project, fortified heritage as an opportunity for innovation and economic development of cities

Military heritage has had a common development in most cities occupying an important position in the defence of their territories. With the appearance of imperial and absolutist monarchies, the idea of city fortification extends to the borders where the best and most modern examples of the art of fortification end up being sited. The defensive function of these border military constructions persisted until well into the 20th century, whereas in the interior of their respective countries, the walls began to be demolished as their effectiveness waned and due to problems of overcrowding and insalubrity.

This border status meant that the cities were fortified not only for their own protection, but also to safeguard the dividing line itself between different states or territories. For that reason, some military constructions, as is the case with Pamplona, cannot and should not be understood in their more individual conception, but rather, in view of their territorial base, within a greater whole. The case at hand, the Pyrenean defensive system, is endowed with a collection of interesting strongholds on both sides of the border. The French city of Bayonne is one of them.

Bayonne, a sister city of Pamplona since 1960, has had a parallel history and its citizens have had identical feelings and aspirations regarding their walls: need for defence, block on expansion, desire to demolish and finally symbol of their city to preserve and promote. Bayonne, castrum romano at its foundation, was always a military city. Its strategic defences determined the development of the city until the early 20th century.

This point of view, that it is difficult to comprehend fortified heritage from an individual perspective, led to Pamplona and Bayonne benefitting from European Union funding. Both cities embarked together, with the project Fortius: touristic and cultural enhancement of the fortified heritage of Pamplona and Bayonne, on a path that focuses on consolidating their joint defensive heritage, generating a sense of identity and cohesion that helps them strengthen the sense their people have of belonging to the European Union. The Fortius project comes within the framework of the Spain-France-Andorra Territorial Cooperation Programme [POCTEFA] promoted by the Working Community of the Pyrenees [CTP] and receives support from the European Regional Development Fund [ERDF].

Image 15. Low bastion of Our Lady of Guadalupe

The Fortius project was conceived with a view to economic development and job creation in the cities of Pamplona and Bayonne, to making the most of the opportunity afforded them by fortified heritage, and to seeking its capitalization and sustainable management. The application submitted in 2011 following a call for proposals by the Spain-France-Andorra Territorial Cooperation Programme [POCTEFA] was centred on six main objectives:

- To promote knowledge and recognition of the value of the fortified enclosures of Pamplona and Bayonne, with a view to acquiring the social dimension they deserve.

- To contribute to the full restoration of the fortified complexes of both cities: Labrit bastion and Magdalena front in Pamplona; and Bastion Royal in Bayonne.

- To increase the cultural and touristic value of Pamplona and Bayonne through their military heritage.

- To create high quality tourist products around military heritage contributing to the sustainable management of the monuments.

- To complement the touristic and cultural attraction of the western Pyrenees.

- To strengthen and intensify cross-border cooperation between Pamplona and Bayonne and their respective areas of influence, bringing citizens closer together with economic, social and institutional agents.

Image 16. San Bartolomé fort [left] and Labrit bastion [right], 2014. [Prieto]

Image 17. Labrit bastion: gorge [left] and inside passage [right], 2014

Funding for this project allowed a multitude of events to take place between 2011 and 2015, becoming Pamplona’s walled complex, and especially its citadel, a cultural and leisure space. The greater part of Pamplona City Council’s summer programme has taken place in the walled environment under the name “Ciudadelarte”. The programme has included gastronomy days under the title “Ciudadela Gourmet”; the “Tardes de Ciudadela” concert cycle, combining jazz, flamenco, indy music, fusion music, Italian music and French music over all the evenings of summer; and Image graphy, painting, sculpture and drawing exhibitions inside the buildings preserved within the citadel: Magazine, Gunpowder Block, Oven and Weapons Hall.

Image 18. Ciudadelarte – Concert within the Citadel [Garzarón]

There have also been activities that have allowed attendees to discover previously inaccessible spaces. A case in point is the “Muralla en danza (The wall in dance)” international cycle, made up of vertical dance sessions developed over the Redín bastion walls, the enjoyment of which required access to the unknown bastion below Guadalupe.

Image 19. The wall in dance - Vertical dance on the Redín bastion

The event “La muralla a la luz de las velas (The wall by candlelight)” took some of the most characteristic places in the walled complex back in time with old-style illumination. Thanks to this initiative, located in different sections of the sentry walk, it was possible to enjoy the music and gastronomy of Navarre in a magical environment illuminated by thousands of candles lit, in a spirit of participation, by the attendees themselves.

Image 20. The wall by candlelight [Garzarón]

There were also guided and dramatised tours to get to know “The secrets of the walls”, exciting walks led by experts who would open for the visitor the doors to places that until then had remained closed. Historical recreations were also been celebrated with the participation of reenactors from other places.

Image 21. Historical Recreation - Siege and Liberation of Pamplona

It must be acknowledged that the citizens turned up to these events in their droves, with an improvement seen in the tourism indicators in terms of visits and overnight stays in the sister cities. Moreover, with these activities it has been possible to confirm existing demand, and the success it represents, on the part of citizens and tourists to approach and understand defensive heritage in a different way. At base, it is a question of participants in these activities being able to enjoy a unique experience and feeling part of the monument’s history.

Image 22. The Citywalls Night Race

The final event of this project was the International Conference on Fortified Heritage: Management and Sustainable Development held in Pamplona 15-17 October 2014. This conference became a forum for debate and exchange of experiences on built military heritage and its preservation and integration in cities. It was attended by 140 experts from twenty countries, included representatives of ICOFORT as well as other professionals from fields as diverse as architecture, history, restoration, landscape gardening, archaeology, management, media, tourism, culture, etc., all connected in one way or another with cultural heritage and especially with military heritage. Concurring with the conference it was inaugurated a travelling exhibition entitled “BASTIONS - Pyrenean Fortresses” focused on the Pyrenean defensive system. Work was also done on communicating of the historical and cultural value of fortified heritage with publications and other educational materials aimed at both the adult and the younger reading public.

The actions of the Fortius project were possible thanks to European Union funding, which has contributed 65% of the eligible cost. In total, the cities of Pamplona and Bayonne benefited through POCTEFA from a 3.1 million euro subsidy from the European Regional Development Fund.

Proof of the great success of this project is that between 2016 and 2019 the cities of Pamplona and Bayonna developed Creacity, a new project with almost identical objectives that also included the city of Hondarribia as a partner, which was also funded with € 750,000 from the European Regional Development Fund. This financing allowed to continue innovating and consolidating the most successful activities that had been launched in the previous years with Fortius project.

Image 23. A family day around the citywalls

Conclusions and lessons learned

From the experience of these intense years of research, planning, debate, restoration, programming of activities, promotion etc., first on an individual basis and then working jointly with other cities, its possible to gather the main conclusions and lessons learnt in this period.

They can be divided into three main categories: on the meaning of military heritage, on interventions therein, and on its future:

1. On the meaning of military heritage:

- Fortifications form part of the daily life of cities. It is impossible to understand cities without understanding their walled enclosures, even when these have perhaps been demolished. They still remain somehow in the collective subconscious, given that the original city gestated and developed inside them.

- The art of fortifying, together with the poliorcetics and the development of armament, has been for centuries the spearhead of technological development and human knowledge. This reason makes the value of fortifications unquestionable today. Therefore, it is necessary that individuals and public institutions go out of their way to protect it.

- The ancient walled city comes to the rescue of the modern one. The city renews and modernises itself precisely through what it previously rejected. Fortresses have moved from being a defensive centre of power to being a centre of citizens’ power, becoming a space for connection, leisure and urban life.

2. On intervention in military heritage:

- As a preliminary step to a sustainable management plan for fortified heritage, it is essential to be thoroughly familiar with it. Prior studies and documentation are the tool for successful intervention. Thorough knowledge will also make a correct interpretation possible and avoid actions that obscure the value of the building and make it difficult to read.

- It is necessary to maintain and to engage with fortified heritage, to move from ideas to action. For this, an action-oriented strategic focus is essential, in contrast to those organisations that carry on debating about what to do with their heritage, while their monuments continue to deteriorate around them. Errors are likely to be committed, but undoubtedly the biggest failure would be not to act and to allow the heritage to fall into ruin as a consequence of that inaction.

- The re-use of military heritage ensures its preservation. The thing is to provide the fortified heritage with activities that are compatible with its integrity and authenticity, but which also bring in the economic means necessary to make it sustainable. Thought must come before action. It is no good restoring and then thinking about what use it could be put to.

- Providing walled complexes with functional improvements in areas such as accommodation, facilities, public spaces and disabled access means that life is returning to these often abandoned enclosures. Their use will guarantee that citizens come to the old walls, that they will feel and truly own them as they encounter a living heritage.

- Military heritage forms an indissoluble part of the historic urban landscape in which it is located. Actions should be carried out with maximum respect for the property and its setting. The incorporation of uses and activities linked to the territories’ own traditions will help to reinforce that integration.

3. On the future of military heritage:

- The traditional image of the separating border must become a bridge of union. The border is a locus of common history. It would therefore be beneficial for the monumental heritage of one state’s border to share its information dissemination programme with the neighbouring state or territory. They are two sides of the same coin, and the discourse on each is therefore the same as that on the other.

- Citizens no longer want to get to know their heritage in the traditional way; they want to consume unique experiences, they want excitement, they want to feel part of history.

- The fortifications are a force for unity, in some way the globalisation of the past. Any important advance in the art of fortification was immediately transmitted to distant locations over both land and sea. Moreover, in border areas, the fortresses made sense as part of a whole, a complex fortified system. So why not again now? This holistic view shows us the importance of networking and of the networking of networks.

- Networking allows access to public funding conservation initiatives and enhancements through cross-border cooperation programs.

- Heritage is a means of social cohesion. Looking to the future together, thinking together, working together... all in all, pooling resources is essential to achieving a living fortified heritage.

Image 24. Santa Isabel ravelin and counterguard.Citadel of Pamplona [Garzarón]


Thank you very much to the mayors of Pamplona, Yolanda Barcina [1999-2011] and Enrique Maya [2011-2015], who gave me the opportunity to lead this exciting project; and for the whole team of excellent professionals who have made this possible. And also thanks for the financial support from the Government of Navarra, the Government of Spain and the European Union.

The Author

José Vicente Valdenebro García was City Manager of the City of Pamplona [2011-2015] and Director of the Department of Strategic Projects of the City of Pamplona [2003-2011]. He was the leader of the Conservation and Promotion Plan of the Pamplona Fortifications and the project FORTIUS Pamplona-Bayonne. He is currently a professor at the Public University of Navarra [Spain].

For more information:

José-Vicente VALDENEBRO GARCÍA, PhD Architect

Universidad Pública de Navarra - Public University of Navarra

Departamento de Ingeniería - Department of Engineering

Campus Arrosadía. Edificio Los Tejos

31006 - Pamplona [Navarra-Spain] | | @jv_valdenebro


Editorial note: "The articles signed in Fortified News express the personal opinion of their authors, and not necessarily the opinion of ICOFORT on the topic addressed"

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