June 18, 2008

Global Seminars & Invited Speaker Series


Fiesta, architecture and urban planning in Pamplona to the beat of its bullrings
(on the 50th anniversary of the Feria del Toro)

Mr. José Javier Azanza López.
Chair of Navarrese Heritage and Art

Like the festival itself, the bullring has also evolved over time, going from a common urban space -the main squares or bullring squares- to a specific enclosure such as the bullrings. Although the first fixed bullrings date back to the second half of the 18th century, it was not until the 19th century that they were definitively incorporated into the urban landscape and became part of the artistic heritage of Spanish cities.

Pamplona, a city with a strong bullfighting vocation, was no exception to this general panorama, so that the great bullfighting celebrations took place in the place del Castillo, the most appropriate due to its extraordinary dimensions. Previously, the city's carpenters prepared the space and delimited its perimeter, which, being too large, was reduced by means of an enclosure provisional made of wood, composed of boards that formed a magnificent gallery with 19 semicircular arches that provided a large issue of seats. This structure traced a straight line that ran from the steps of San Nicolás to the Bajada de Javier. The authorities attended the spectacle from the Casa del Toril, and also rented balconies and arches of private houses, so that the capacity of the Pamplona bullring ranged between 5,000 and 6,000 people.

The first attempt to build a fixed bullring place in Pamplona took place in 1777, when the Municipal Corporation agreed to apply for the plants of the recently built bullrings of Madrid and Zaragoza to take as reference letter. The project was specified in a magnificent design signed by the master builder José Pablo de Olóriz, and the Taconera bullring was thought to be the most suitable site, but finally the royal decree did not authorize its construction. Neither did the attempt made three years later to build a new line of houses in the middle of the place del Castillo, which would have radically transformed the appearance of the "living room" of the city, nor the one that took place in 1803, sponsored by the board of the Casa de Misericordia.

Thus, in 1830 the architect of the Provincial Council José de Nagusía presented a project of place for bullfights with a capacity for 8,000 people distributed in an uncovered arena and two levels of covered bleachers. The place, whose inauguration took place on July 6, 1844, was built on the grounds of the former convent of the Discalced Carmelite nuns, on one of the fronts of the place del Castillo. It was short-lived, and its serious construction defects led to its demolition in 1850, and it was replaced by a new one of identical dimensions and in the same location as the previous one.

place of Pamplona, 1918.

place of Pamplona, 1918. Photo A. García Deán (file Municipal de Pamplona)

The new place opened its doors during the San Fermín festivities of 1852, and for almost seventy years it was Pamplona's bullring, until in the second decade of the 20th century it was decided to demolish it and build a new one. Among the reasons that justified it were the fact that the venue was insufficient for the increasing number of spectators and, mainly, the expansion of the city through the Second Expansion designed by Serapio Esparza, which made it necessary to demolish the Gayarre Theater and the place de Toros to clear the way for the Avenida de Carlos III in its connection with the place del Castillo. Once its demolition was decided, on August 10, 1921 the place suffered a fire that accelerated the process, so that in April 1922 the demolition of the old bullfighting place began, whose site was completely cleared on July 1, 1922. 

The Baluarte de la Reina was chosen as the site for the new bullring. In August 1920, the City Council accepted the proposal of the Casa de Misericordia so that this institution would be in charge of its construction and subsequent management; and shortly afterwards, the board de la Meca commissioned the preliminary project to the San Sebastian architect Francisco Urcola, given his experience in this type of work subject , as he had shown in the place of El Chofre in San Sebastian (1903) and the Monumental in Seville (1918). 

Aerial view of Pamplona with its two bullrings, 1922.

Aerial view of Pamplona with its two bullrings, 1922 (file Municipal de Pamplona)

Inaugurated on July 7, 1922, the place del Ensanche is a good example of how new materials serve an architectural language that is still historicist, that is, inspired by the styles of the past. Thus, reinforced concrete is used for the structure, and yet its external appearance is totally classical. Sobriety is the dominant grade of the construction, with few concessions to ornamentation that is concentrated in the presidential box and the main facade, resolved in the manner of a great triumphal arch, with a giant order of pilasters, upper gallery and cresting of clear Plateresque origin. The rest of the place was organized on the outside in a body articulated by pilasters, between which there was a covered gallery of access to the laying and covered bleachers; the second floor gallery, uncovered, gave entrance to the boxes. Inside, it had a numbered seating area, a covered grandstand that was an extension of the seating area, and a box area at the top. Its capacity was around 13,000 spectators.
The Second Ensanche was developed in the following years, and the place bullring did not turn its back on the new city, but rather looked out over it, marking an interesting perspective with the Avenida de Roncesvalles, in which the main gate became the scenographic backdrop.

place of Pamplona, 1923.

place of Pamplona, 1923. Photo Zaragüeta (file Municipal de Pamplona)

In the decades following its construction, the place of bulls is going to be object of successive reforms, always directed to achieve the same goal: the increase of its capacity. The reforms carried out in 1942 and 1952, although still in a modest way, are the result of this. It was already in the sixties when a profound remodeling of the place took place according to Rafael Moneo's project , consisting of a vertical expansion in height. For this it was necessary to demolish the upper grandstand, which was replaced by one of greater capacity that was transformed into a huge andanada. This brought the capacity to 19,529 seats. On the outside, the enlargement is structurally evident as a series of large triangle-shaped ribs. Finally, the recent reform of the place in 2004-05 was aimed at improving the accessibility and safety of the Pamplona bullring, in order to adapt it to the Regulations for Bullfighting Shows at subject in terms of safety.

place of Pamplona, 2008

place of Pamplona, 2008. Photo J. J. Azanza