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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.