We came to northern Spain for the Easter weekend. Easter is a time of public religious celebrations – mostly in the form of processions through the ancient city. Groups, or guilds, carry heavy floats depicting scenes from the story of the passion, the stages of Christ’s arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Participants are dressed as Roman soldiers, residents of Jerusalem, or other characters that are part of the Easter story. Many carry lighted candles, palm fronds, weapons – whatever fits their part of the story. Musicians in bands also form part of the procession which moves slowly through the streets either to the beat of the music or to the beating of drums that set the pace. The floats are very heavy so frequent stops are made to allow the bearers to step aside and let new bearers take their place. While carrying the floats on shoulders is the traditional method, one of two floats on wheels that are pushed like hand carts have also been observed – these seem to lack the true sense of penance that is part of the Easter tradition however. We were able to observe a procession from the balcony of our luxury apartment in the old city centre.
Pamplona is a city of ancient streets and buildings, surrounded by successful industries and some dense areas of apartment blocks. The greater city, in turn, is surrounded by rich green rolling hills, dotted with tiny villages and farms. On Easter Saturday our Northern Spain Travel guide took us to the local village of Lanz to get a feel for Navarran rural life. It was a fairly short journey to the village but the contrast between city and village life was striking. We walked the main (the only) street and enjoyed the stillness, the architecture, the bird song. It was definitely worth exploring this small, bucolic treasure, unwinding and relaxing before returning to the bustle of Pamplona.
That evening our guide picked us up and accompanied us to midnight Easter mass in the cathedral. As we walked uphill through narrow streets towards the cathedral we were startled by a very loud cracking and rattling. It sounded almost as though some sort of armed insurrection was underway! The noise we soon realized was coming from one of the cathedral towers from a huge wooden drum covered with wooden spikes which rattled as the drum was rotated – the signal to the town, at a time when the bells were silenced for the days leading up to Easter Sunday, that mass was about to start. The Easter weekend mass was quite a grand ceremony, spectacular with candles, bells, organ, singing, incense, costumes, processions etc.
Easter weekend Sunday was a quiet day (our choice) but things became busy again on Monday (a holiday here in Spain). With our guide we drove out into the mountains making our first stop at a cafe on the Camino de Santiago (the pilgrim route to Santiago). Many pilgrims were already there, enjoying coffees, sausage, pastries, etc. outdoors in the sunshine. We talked to pilgrims from France, England, Canada, and Australia and wished them Buen Camino as they headed down the path, staff in hand, the symbolic scallop shell of Santiago pilgrims bouncing jauntily on their backpacks.
With our guide we walked through a local nature preserve in search of bunkers that had been built during the Franco era. Franco had planned 10,000 of these bunkers all along the Pyrenees but only 6,000 were built. They were to deter the French, later the allies, and later still the Spanish who had fled from Franco during the civil war, from entering the country. The bunkers were never used and their existence was denied until about 10 years ago but now they have become of archeological interest and tours o bunkers, most of which are tucked into the mountain sides, are available. We found two of the bunkers – one in very good condition, the other all overgrown with weeds and brambles. In the years since they were built many have been used as animal shelters or storage barns by the locals who were aware of their existence despite the fact that they were supposed to be secret and hidden.
Our guide was not only a history buff, but also a naturalist, archaeologist and general explorer of the area. He talked about plants, mushrooms, ferns, bird feathers – in many cases producing examples of the things he was talking about – a sort of Show and Tell of the area!
One particularly unusual find he showed us was the remains of a tiny leather shoe that he had found in a mountain cave. After considering various possibilities regarding the possible history of the shoe, its shape and size, its construction, he hypothesized that it had probably belonged to a female dwarf who had perhaps been part of a travelling carnival troupe. Perhaps she had died in the area and her body left in the cave. Where were the bones? It may have been removed by wolves or other predatory animals that roamed the area until fairly recent times. A story without proof, but it made an interesting tale.
Our walk also took us through meadows where beautiful horses grazed …. horses wearing bells with deep tones like the bells worn by mountain cattle. Alas, these lovely horses are bred to be eaten which is a sobering thought for any horse lover or admirer. Our walk ended with a yummy lunch of simple mountain food (no horse meat!!)
Discover the heart of this magical region, where a perfect combination of first-class experiences, exceptional gastronomy and sensational accommodation gives you the most authentic Spanish experience.
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