The Pamplona area was probably settled by Basques, who gave it the name Iruña/Iruñea, but the city’s definitive founding was by the Roman general Pompey, who set up a base here around 74 BC while campaigning against the renegade Quintus Sertorius, who had set himself up as a local warlord. No shrinking violet, Pompey named the city after himself (Pompeiopolis). The city flourished due to its important position at the peninsula’s doormat, but was sacked time and again by Germanic tribes. After a period of Visigothic control, it was taken by the Moors in AD 711, although the inhabitants were allowed to remain Christian. There was more territorial exchange and debate before the final emergence of the Kingdom of Pamplona in the ninth century. Sacked and destroyed by the feared caliph of Córdoba Abd-al-Rahman in AD 924, the city only gradually recovered, hampered by squabbling between its municipalities.
Pamplona’s rise to real prominence ironically came when Navarra was conquered by Castilla; Fernando built the city walls and made it the province’s capital. After a turbulent 19th century, Pamplona expanded rapidly through the 20th century, necessitating the development of successive Ensanches (suburbs) south and west of the old centre.
Los Sanfermines are the best time to visit for atmosphere; it’s difficult to describe just how big a party it is. Whatever you do, don’t visit immediately afterwards (ie mid- to late July); everything’s shut and the city seems sunk in a post-party depression.
Walking around Pamplona is the best option; the only time you might want to use the city buses is to reach the Hospitales district where the stadium, planetarium and several hotels and pensiones are located. Numerous buses plough up and down Avenida Pío XII connecting the Hospitales district with the centre. You can get on them at Avenida Carlos III, near Plaza del Castillo. The RENFE train station is inconveniently situated a couple of kilometres north of town, but is connected every 10 minutes by bus.
Pamplona is easily reached by bus or train from major cities in Spain and from most places in the northeast of the country. There are several daily flights with Iberia from Madrid and Barcelona to Pamplona airport, 7 km away. There’s no bus service from the airport into town; a taxi will cost about €8.
Pamplona is an easy city to get the hang of: the walled old town perches over the plain above the Río Arga. To the south and west stretch the Ensanches, the newer town, which radiates outwards along avenues beginning near the Ciudadela, a large bastion turned public park.