It is difficult to describe the atmosphere of this fiesta as you have to be there to experience it to see why it is such an unforgettable event. Although tourists know the festival as “the running of the bulls”, to Spanish people it is so much more than this. The running of the bulls is just one part of the incredible party atmosphere associated with this traditional Spanish fiesta.
The festival starts at midday on 6th July with the “chupinazo”, (a rocket) which is launched during the opening ceremony in the main square followed by a massive street party. The festivities continue 24 hours a day until 14th July at midnight. The name comes from Saint Fermín, the patron saint of Navarra. The people of Pamplona have always worshipped him as he was seen as their original martyr of Christianity. This festival was originally held in October but was moved to July due to better weather.
The bull running known as the “encierro” (“enclosing” the bulls in the bull ring) takes place every morning at 8 a.m. Six fighting bulls along with two herds of bullocks run through the streets to the bull ring. It is said that men began running with the bulls in the early 1800’s to prove their manhood, however this was banned then and only became officially allowed by authorities in 1867.
All shops along the route are boarded up at 7 a.m. and the streets are cleared by police. A gun goes off at 8 a.m. and the bulls are released and charge along the mile-long route through narrow streets to the bull ring. Once the bulls are in their pens young steers are let into the ring with the runners. By 8.30 it is all over.
It is free to run but is intended to be run by men only. Locals look down upon women participants. Since 1910 fourteen people have lost their lives running with the bulls. The most recent being Daniel Jimeno Romero, a 27-year old from Madrid in 2009. However, considering the huge numbers of participants each year, this is not such a high number. Often, it is not the bulls that runners have to be scared of, but of the other runners as they fall over each other in the panic to avoid the bulls.
A summary of the highlights:
• 6th July: Opening ceremony.
• 7th-14th July: “Encierro” – the bull running at 8 a.m. every day.
• The “Parade of the Giants” held every morning with enormous paper mache figures dancing in the streets.
• The “Corrida” (bull fight) each evening at 6.30 p.m.
• Spectacular firework displays every night at 11 p.m.
• 14th July “Closing Ceremony”: locals gather in the main square for a candlelight procession to the old church.