The original town, commonly known as “Sangüesa la Vieja” (“Old Sangüesa”), was located in present-day Rocaforte. There is evidence that it has been populated since the time of the Romans.
One of the first kings of Pamplona, Sancho Garcés I, was born in Sangüesa in the year 825. In the 10th century, the city played a crucial role as a defensive front against the Moors as they advanced towards the Kingdom of Pamplona. In 1090, King Sancho Ramírez granted Sangüesa the Fuero of Jaca in order to stimulate the repopulation of the city. As a result, it became an important stop along the Camino de Santiago. Due to the prosperity generated by this development and the physical impossibility of expanding the city, in 1222 Alfonso I the Warrior ordered that the city be moved to its present-day location. Later, when Theobald II divided Navarre into merindades, Sangüesa was made the capital of one of these new administrative divisions.
Ever since then, the history of Sangüesa has remained connected to its role in the Camino de Santiago as well as its location on the border between the kingdoms of Navarre and Aragon. In 1503, King Henry II, the last king of Navarre before its annexation by the Crown of Castile, was born in Sangüesa; under his reign it obtained the title of city.
The 18th century ushered in dark times for Sangüesa. During the War of the Spanish Succession, the city was occupied and plundered by the troops of Archduke Charles of Austria. In 1787, the city was hit by its most devastating flood ever after the Yesa Bridge broke and the Aragon River rose dramatically. Over 500 people died as a result of the flood.
Sangüesa was once again ravaged during the Peninsular War, in which it was the stage of several battles involving the troops of Espoz y Mina.
Today Sangüesa is a tourist destination whose main attractions are its wealth of monuments and its status as a stop on the Camino de Santiago.