The constant transit of pilgrims, the scallop shells and the walking sticks all form part of the urban landscape of this town, a magnificent example of a "street-based" town just 24 kilometres south-west of Pamplona.
Walking along the narrow Rúa Mayor is a very pleasant exercise that allows you to discover architectural gems such as the churches of the Crucifix, St. James and St. Peter and beautiful buildings peppered with details of the influence of the Pilgrim's Way.
However, there is no doubt that the Romanesque bridge across the river Arga is the most amazing sight of all. It is one of the most beautiful and distinguished examples of Romanesque architecture on the way to Santiago and is what gives its name to this town of barely 2,500 inhabitants, which lies close to other points of interest such as Eunate, Andelos and the Cerco de Artajona.
Puente la Reina originated and exists for the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago de Compostela. Even today the influence of pilgrimages to Santiago continues to characterise the town, which forms the crossroads at the convergence of the Orreaga/Roncesvalles (from Paris) and Somport (from Toulouse) routes.
Founded in the twelfth century by Alfonso I 'el Batallador', it has admirably kept to its original urban layout. This urban structure is a genuine example of a street-based town, i.e. a town built around its main street rather than around a protective castle.
The main street, or Rúa Mayor, which leads on to the bridge, is both a thoroughfare and a monument. Narrow and shadowed and hemmed in by noble houses, the street beings with the church of the Crucifix, a construction of Templar origin with two naves, one Romanesque and the other Gothic. Before entering the church, take a look at the Romanesque doorway which exhibits a wealth of ornamentation, and note the decoration of the central archivolt, whose main motifs are the pilgrims' shells. Inside, observe the crucifix with its unusual wooden cross in a "Y" shape which, the story goes, was donated by some German pilgrims who had carried it on their shoulders during their pilgrimage.
Following the Pilgrim's Way along the Rúa Mayor you will come to the church of Santiago, where only some exterior walls and two lovely doors remain from the primitive Romanesque church. The rest of the building was built in the 17th century, except for the upper part of the tower which dates from the 18th century. Inside the church there are two polychrome carvings of St. James the Apostle, known as "beltza" (black) due to his dark skin, and St. Bartholomew.
Your steps will take you to the Plaza Mena or Mayor, an engaging, lively square with a porticoed gallery from the 18th century and some attractive buildings such as the "Casa de los Cubiertos". After crossing the square, you will come to the third big church in Puente la Reina, the church of St. Peter (14th century) which houses some interesting altarpieces.
The Rúa Mayor ends at the magnificent bridge, built in the eleventh century over the river Arga to make it easier for pilgrims to leave the town. Cross over it and listen to the water flowing in silence while imagining all the pilgrims that the bridge has bade farewell to throughout its history. Afterwards, from the banks of the river, you can admire this superb piece of Romanesque engineering with its six mid-point arches, the most easterly of which is underground.
When it was originally built it had three defensive towers, one of which featured the renaissance image of the Virgin of Puy, or Txori (bird in Basque), which is kept in the parish church of St. Peter. Legend tells us that a bird used to visit the image every day, removing the cobwebs with its wings and washing the Virgin's face with its beak after collecting water from the river Arga.
If you visit Puente la Reina between 24th and 30th July you will find it immersed in the hubbub of its patron saint's festivities. If you choose the last weekend in September, you will coincide with the celebration of its fairs, with their famous 'pitchfork races'. To really get involved in the fiesta you need to sit yourself down at a good table with some Piquillo red peppers and vegetables grown in the local market gardens.