Running with the bulls in Pamplona was the experience of a lifetime. I was extremely impressed by the organization of the event.
What Is San Fermin?
San Fermin is a world-famous festival held in Pamplona, Spain, honoring Saint Fermin but most popularly known for hosting the Running of the Bulls. The festival, or fiesta as it is called in Spain, takes place from noon on July 6 to midnight on July 14 every year. Made famous by the writings of Ernest Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises and Death in the Afternoon, the San Fermin festival brings in tens of thousands of visitors each year.
Saint Fermin, or San Fermin, grew up in 3rd century Pamplona as the son of a Roman senator. He joined the Catholic Church as a priest and became the first bishop of Pamplona. While San Fermin was likely beheaded, stories tell that he may have met his death by being tied to bulls and dragged through city streets. However, one of San Fermin's Catholic mentors is believed to have been martyred in this way.
Txupinazo: The Party Begins
Guests are officially welcomed to San Fermin at noon on July 6 as most of the city crowds into the main square in front of city hall for the opening ceremony, called Txupinazo. Almost everyone in Pamplona attends the Txupinazo so the crowd is tight, there is much pushing, and it may be difficult to breathe. To many, this is exactly the way they want to kick off a week-long fiesta! Just before noon, everyone in the crowd raises their traditional red scarves in the air and waits for the festivities to start. From a balcony of city hall, a member of the city council shouts the Spanish version of "People of Pamplona, long live San Fermin!" The crowd replies with cheers and the opening of champagne bottles as the council member sets off a rocket from the balcony. Everyone in the city puts their scarves around their neck for the first time and the week of partying officially begins. The traditional outfit for San Fermin is white pants and shirt with a red waist sash and red neck scarf (much like a handkerchief). Festivities include a week full of music, dancing, parades, and traditional festival characters. Festival-goers should note that they will get extremely messy as it is normal to have water and sangria dumped onto the crowds from balconies above the streets.
Each night ends at 11 pm with a spectacular fireworks display. According to the Association of Hotels of Pamplona, these incredible displays began in 1595. Since then, these fireworks have become an international contest with a different company creating a show each night. These spectacles last almost 30 minutes, after-which festival goers either go to sleep, many in the nearby public park, so they wake up early for the bull run or they simply continue the party all night long. Pamplona can get very cold at night, so anyone planning on sleeping in the park or figuring out their sleeping situation when they get there should definitely bring some warm clothes to sleep in. Having seen many impressive fireworks displays myself, the fireworks I saw in Pamplona on the first night of the festival that I went to were the most impressive that I have seen.
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The Running of the Bulls
Please visit Running of the Bulls - Overview and Tips for a more in-depth exploration of the Running of the Bulls.
The Running of the Bulls, or the Encierro as it is called, is usually considered the main attraction of the festival. This event allows anyone to actually run in the streets with bullfighting bulls as they are moved from a corral to the bullfighting ring each morning. This event starts at 8:00 am and brings in a few thousand runners each day.
The route for the Running of the Bull is about 800 meters long. It starts at the bottom of the city where the fighting bulls are kept overnight and ends at the bullring where the bulls will fight for their lives in the afternoon. The Running consists of twelve animals, six of which are bulls used in the later bullfights while the other six are oxen that are trained to lead the bulls to the ring at the end of the route. The average pace of the bulls is 15 mph, though they can sprint much faster. It is not possible for anyone to run in front of the bulls from start to finish. Daredevils who run directly in front of a bull usually do so in the final stretch of the route and accomplish this feat by arcing into position in front of a bull for a few seconds and then arcing back to the side of the bull. The Running of the Bulls usually takes about four minutes but has lasted as long as half an hour in the past.
This event can be very dangerous and usually brings about 200-300 injuries a year, most of which are not serious. However, pileups and gorings may be fatal. There have been 15 recorded fatalities since such records began in 1910. The most important thing a runner can do to stay safe is to not fall down. There are thousands of runners each day and the crowds can get excessive and pushy. A fallen runner can get trampled by people or bulls. However, since bulls are attracted to motion, a runner that falls in front of a bull should stay down and protect his or her head and neck. A bull is more likely to jump over a stationary person than try to harm him or her. Additionally, runners should view a running and walk the route previously, get some sleep, wear gym shoes, and not be drunk.
Pamplona Bull Fights
The Encierro ends in the Bullring where the bulls are kept until they fight in the afternoon. These bullfights take place each afternoon after the first day. There are six bullfights each day. These fights can get rather gruesome but are a major part of San Fermin tradition.
Pobre de Mi
The fiesta ends right where it started, in the square in front of the town hall, with a ceremony called the Pobre de Mi. The crowd removes their traditional red scarves and raises them in the air with candles and chants "Pobre de mi, pobre de mi, que se han acabado las fiestas, de San Fermin" which translates to "Poor me, poor me, for the festival of San Fermin has come to a close." This ceremony is much calmer than the Txupinazo. Once the festival is over, San Fermin transforms back into an average Basque city until the next July.