Yes… The Giants! And Half men-Half horses, and Little Big heads, and old Vinegar Face, and Napoleon, and…but yet again, they are another story in themselves.
Known collectively as La Comparsa – ‘The Troupe’ is how I translate it – their Spanish and Basque names conjure up another world… Los Gigantes, Cabuzedos, Zaldikos and Kilikis…they all come out to play at various times of the year, and that includes The Feast day of San Saturnino.
Now…the Giants are, by nature, (and name) quite big. Actually around eleven and a half feet tall. That’s three and a half meters in new money. So when they come out to play, they start at the bus station, which gives them plenty of headroom.
Leaving the station around 9.15 in the morning they normally follow a set route, and along with being an integral part of the Feast Day of San Saturnino, they also play another big part in the city’s calendar…they herald the start of Christmas!
Again, the Basque names are worth using to take you back to a long ago medieval procession – dantzaris, txistulais, timpani, atabals, albokas and daltzainas…I can see them in my mind’s eye now, like a minstrel troupe parading the streets of Pamplona, but instead of the city in sunshine surrounded by buildings I see a village in mist surrounded by mountains…
For those that know the city, here’s more or less where they go. From the bus station they head down Yanguas y Miranda, that big wide open boulevard outside the station, before crossing the Plaza de la Paz, which is the big, no- very-round roundabout, before heading along Garcia Ximenez, which is the street behind the old bus station.
Then, our big friends and their little folk go down Tudela Street, across the Plaza Vinculo – which once upon a time, in the late 1840’s, a temporary bullring was constructed which served for a couple of years as the main plaza de toros while another was being built – and into the Paseo de Sarasate, better known in fiesta amongst visitors as where the big lottery/tombola is held.
They then turn off the paseo and proceed down Comedias – that’s where the delightful little Café Roch is, folks, for those who know – into Zapateria Street – yup, Shoe Street, bet you can’t guess what it was known for selling – and into the Plaza Consistorial and the doors of the Town Hall, to accompany the official procession.
Imagine it: this fabulous troupe of giants and half-horse half men mythical figures, along with characters nicknamed Napoleon and Vinegar Face, Warty, Beardy, Potato and Pigtail have waltzed through the old town accompanied by what I always think of as a medieval minstrel band to stand outside the very heart of the modern city, to await the corporation. All of this magical band of human and fantasy, historical and mythical then make the short way to the Church of San Saturnino/San Cernin.
And then…the saint comes out! Many of us have seen the figure of San Fermín paraded around the town…well now it’s the turn of Saint Saturn…which is just such a great name for a saint! He is, one might say, the cherry on top of this medieval cake, the King of the Castle, the Honoured Guest of the Procession.
From there they go up Mayor Street – that’s the (for the old town) wide one that leads to Taconera Park, and the nearby Hotel Tres Reyes. After going along Dr. Arazuri Walk – he was Pamplona’s first modern historian, born in 1918 and died in 2000 – and there’s a nice statue of him there to commemorate him too, they head back along calle Nueva, New Street, and back to the church.
Then for around midday, they return to the town hall square…where again the Giants will come alive before your eyes and dance. If you just watch the faces of the children and the look of wonder in their eyes as they see these paper mache figures reborn as living and dancing giants…well, just close your eyes for a second, imagine yourself as you were at their age…then open them again and you’ll feel that wonder and magic.
Viva San Saturnino! Gora!
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