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San Fermín The Running of the Bulls
July 6-14 2018
Pamplona-Iruña, Pamplona (Navarre)
The Running of the Bulls
Pamplona is famous throughout the world for The running of the bulls which is the main attraction in this famous celebration that turns into a two week non-stop fiesta thanks to the writings of Ernest Hemingway in his novel Fiesta.
The whole city dresses in red and white as the city gets taken over by the spirit of excitement and daredevil feats that will occur. It is known locally as Sanfermines and is held in honour of Saint Fermin, the patron saint of Pamplona and Navarre as a whole. Its events were central to the plot of The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway. It has become probably the most internationally renowned fiesta in Spain
On the first day of San Fermín 6 July at midday. A rocket ( chupinazo) is fired from the balcony of the town hall. It is a rocket that marks the official start of the fiesta. The first running of the bulls is held the following day: at 8am from the Santo Domingo corral and hundreds of people run in front of the bulls for 825 metres through the streets of old town to the bullring taking about three minutes.
The rockets indicates the different parts of the race to the runners: the first rocket signals the opening of the corral gates; the second means that all the bulls are out; the third, this one in the square, marks the entrance of the bulls into the ring; the fourth means they are in the bullpen and that the race is over.
One of the most exciting moments happens a few minutes before the start of the running of the bulls, when runners entrust themselves to San Fermín, singing three times in front of a small statue on Cuesta de Santo Domingo Street.
Every morning during the fiestas there is a parade of “giants and big-heads” through the centre of the city, for all the children. The fiesta of San Fermin includes open-air celebrations, concerts, dance exhibitions and bullfights. Bullfighting fans fill the stands.
At night, the town erupts into an enormous party. The Comparsa de Gigantes (Company of Giants) parade the streets— enormous puppets accompanied by brass bands. The streets are filled with drunken revellers, and the thousands of tourists find themselves asleep in parks.. The city hall is offered by the town as a storage facility for backpackers' gear.
San Fermín finishes 14th July at midnight, people then go to the Town Hall Square and by candlelight sing “Pobre de mí”, to end the fiesta until the following year.
Nowadays on the 15th of the month, after the fiesta is over, some diehards assemble once more at 7 a.m. and run one last time— against the local bus, whose service along the route of the course starts again on this morning.
The corrida, or bullfight (what is a bullfight?) during San Fermín is very different to bullfights in any other big bullring in Spain or anywhere else. For the simple reason that it is something more than just a bullfight.
The fights of the Feria del Toro are organised by the "Casa de Misericordia" or "Meca" (Old-Folks Home) and the profits go towards the upkeep of this charitable institution. This philanthropic end makes it somewhat easier to pay the expensive prices. This is an essential part of the San Fermín festival (apart from the bull-fights during the Sanfermines there are no other bull-fights during the rest of the year, although there are no lack of aficionados, particularly among those people who frequent the Club Taurino).
In short, the bullfight during San Fermín is a continuation of the pandemonium which is going on in the street during these festival days. It is just another platform for getting on with the basic function of the "fiesta", which is to have a hell of a good time and to eat and drink over the top and generally to do your own thing any old way you want.
For many people, the start of the bullfights is the start of the day. (The bullfights start at 6.30 in the afternoon!)
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Bull Fights in Spain
What is not allowed in the bull run
People under 18 years of age, who must not run or participate.
Crossing police barriers placed to ensure that the run goes off smoothly.
Standing in areas and places along the route that have been expressly prohibited by the municipal police force.
Before the bulls are released, waiting in corners, blind spots, doorways or in entrances to other establishments located along the run.
Leaving doors of shops or entrances to apartments open along the route. The responsibility for ensuring these doors are closed lies with the owners or tenants of the properties.
Being in the bull run while drunk, under the effects of drugs or in any other improper manner.
Carrying objects that are unsuitable for the run to take place correctly.
Wearing inappropriate clothes or footwear for the run.
Inciting the bulls or attracting their attention in any manner, and for whatever reason, along the route of the run or in the bullring.
Running backwards towards the bulls or running behind them.
Holding, harassing or maltreating the bulls and stopping them from moving or being led to the pens in the bullring.
Stopping along the run and staying on the fence, barriers or in doorways in such a way that the run or the safety of other runners is jeopardised.
Taking photographs inside the run, or from the fences or barriers without due authorisation.
Carrying objects that are unsuitable for the good order and security of the bull run.
Installing elements that invade horizontal, vertical or aerial space along the bull run, unless expressly authorised by the Mayor's Office.
Any other action that could hamper the bull run taking place normally.
Other key people in the bull run are the dobladores, people with good bullfighting knowledge (sometimes ex-bullfighters) who take up position in the bullring with capes to help the runners 'fan out' (in other words, run to the sides after they enter the bullring) and 'drag' the bulls towards the corral as quickly as possible.
The two groups of mansos (bullocks)
The six fighting bulls that will take part in the evening bullfight start the run accompanied by an initial group of mansos, which act as 'guides' to help the bulls cover the route. Two minutes after leaving the corral in Santo Domingo, a second group of bullocks (the so-called 'sweep-up" group), which are slower and smaller than the first one, are let out to lead any bulls that might have stopped or been left behind in the bull run towards the bullring.
The encierro is an unrepeatable experience for spectators and runners alike. It is a spectacle that is defined by the level of risk and the physical ability of the runners.
An inexperienced runner should learn about the characteristics of this dangerous 'race' (although it should not be considered as a race) before starting, and also about the protective measures to be taken for his/her own safety and that of the people running alongside.
Not everyone can run the encierro. It requires cool nerves, quick reflexes and a good level of physical fitness. Anyone who does not have these three should not take part; it is a highly risky enterprise.
Runners should start somewhere between the Plaza del Ayuntamiento (City Hall Square) and the pink-slab Education building in the Cuesta of Santo Domingo, and they should be there before 7.30 a.m. because entry to the run is closed from that time on. The rest of the run, except for the stretch mentioned above, must be completely clear of runners until a few minutes before 8 a.m.
History of San Fermin
The origin of the fiesta of San Fermín goes back to the Middle Ages and is related to three celebrations: religious ceremonies in honour of San Fermín, which intensified from the 12th century onwards, trade fairs and bullfights, which were first documented in the 14th century. Initially, the fiesta San Fermín was held on October 10th, but in 1591 the people of Pamplona, fed up with the bad weather at that time of year, decided to transfer the fiesta to July so it would coincide with the Fair. This is how the Sanfermines were born. It initially lasted two days and had a pregón (opening speech), musicians, a tournament, theatre and bullfights. Other events were added later, such as fireworks and dances, and the fiesta lasted until July 10th.
Chronicles from the 17th and 18th centuries tell us of religious events together with music, dance, giants, tournaments, acrobats, bull runs and bullfights, and the clergy's concern at the excessive drinking and dissolute behaviour of young men and women. They also refer to the presence of people from other lands, whose shows "made the city more fun". In the 19th century there were curious fairground attractions such as a woman fired from a cannon, exotic animals or wax figures, while the Comparsa de Gigantes (parade of giants) had new carnival figures with big heads, kilikis and zaldikos. Furthermore, the absence of a double fence in the bull run meant that the bulls escaped on several occasions and ran around the city streets.
The Sanfermines reached their peak of popularity in the 20th century. The novel "The Sun Also Rises" ("Fiesta"), written by Ernest Hemingway in 1926, attracted people from all over the world to come to the fiesta of Pamplona. The 20th century also witnessed new events within the fiesta such as the Riau-Riau (suspended since 1991), the Chupinazo, or the cultural programme.
Pamplona. The “chupinazo”
The rocket that inaugurates the fiesta of San Fermín is known as the chupinazo. At 12 noon on July 6th thousands of people fill City Hall Square to overflowing. With great expectation, accompanied by chants, shouting and cheering, the crowd dressed in red and white waits for a member of the City Council to light the fuse of the rocket. To the shout of "Pamploneses, Viva San Fermín! Gora San Fermín!" the places erupts and thousands of red neck scarves are waved to welcome nine days of unparalleled fun.
The vísperas and the riau-riau
On July 6th at 8 p.m. vespers in honour of San Fermín are held in the church of San Lorenzo. They date back to the 15th century and involve a rich musical repertoire. The City Council attends this function dressed in ceremonial attire. Until a few years ago the Council used to leave the City Hall on foot and walk to San Lorenzo to the strains of a waltz known as the Riau-Riau, which was composed in 1914 and was a kind of popular protest against the authorities. It was accompanied by hundreds of mozos who tried to delay the progress of the Council to the rhythm of the Vals de Astrain, from whose chorus the term Riau-Riau emerged. In its first decade the walk took about an hour, but as the years went by it took longer and longer, and was sometimes even halted, so it was finally suspended in 1991.
July 7th is the festivity of San Fermín. The procession in honour of the saint takes place at 10 a.m.; it is a massively attended event that is very dear to the people of Pamplona. Together with the civil and ecclesiastical authorities, a large crowd accompanies the image of San Fermín along a route in the Old Part of Pamplona. It is a time for tradition and devotion. The image that is revered is a 15th-century wood carving with a silver coating that was added in 1687. In the oval on the image's chest there are reliquaries of San Fermín.
The dianas (literally, wake-up calls) involve a route followed by the city's band (La Pamplonesa) through the streets of the Old Quarter. At 6:45 a.m. the band leaves the City Hall and delights a varied audience consisting of people who have just got up, those who still have not gone to bed, or runners waiting for the encierro, among others.
The Encierro is the event at the heart of the Sanfermines and makes the fiesta a spectacle that would be unimaginable in any other place in the world. It was born from need: getting the bulls from outside the city into the bullring. The encierro takes place from July 7th to 14th and starts at the corral in Calle Santo Domingo when the clock on the church of San Cernin strikes eight o'clock in the morning. After the launching of two rockets, the bulls charge behind the runners for 825 metres, the distance between the corral and the bullring. The run usually lasts between three and four minutes although it has sometimes taken over ten minutes, especially if one of the bulls has been isolated from his companions.
Chants to San Fermín
The bull run has a particularly emotional prelude. It is when the runners, just a few metres up the slope from the corral where the bulls are waiting, raise their rolled newspapers and chant to an image of San Fermín placed in a small recess in the wall in the Cuesta de Santo Domingo. Against the strongest of silences, the following words can be heard: "A San Fermín pedimos, por ser nuestro patrón, nos guíe en el encierro dándonos su bendición." (We ask San Fermín, being our patron saint, to guide us in the bull run and give us his blessing). When they finish they shout "¡Viva San Fermín! ¡Gora San Fermín!." This chant is sung three times before 8 a.m.: first, when there are five minutes to go before 8 o'clock, then three minutes and one minute before the gate of the corral is opened.
Rockets in the bullring
The third rocket, fired from the bullring, signals that all the bulls have entered the bullring. A fourth and final rocket indicates that all the bulls are safely in the corral located inside the bullring, and that the bull run has ended.
For security reasons, a double fence marks out the route of the bull run through the streets. It is made of over 3,000 wooden parts (planks, posts, gates, etc.). Part of the fence stays put throughout the fiesta but other sections are assembled and disassembled every day by a special brigade of workers.
The role of the pastores
A large number of pastores (bull 'shepherds') cover the entire bull run. They place themselves behind the bulls, with their only protection being a long stick. Their main role is to stop the odd idiot from inciting the bulls from behind, to avoid the bulls turning round and running backwards, and to help any bulls that have stopped or have been separated from their companions to continue running towards the bullring.
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Tourist Office Pamplona
Avda. Roncesvalles, 4
Pamplona-Iruña, Pamplona (Navarre)
Tel.: +34 848420420
Useful information - Opening times
From Sep 15 to Jun 15
From Monday to Sunday
Does not close at midday
From 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
From Jun 15 to Sep 15
From Monday to Sunday
Does not close at midday
From 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM
Closing days: Public holidays