San Fermin – A Festival That Will Give You An Insight About Into Spanish Culture & Tradition!
As one of Spain’s most historic cities, Pamplona has captured the imagination of many a visitor to Spain. The capital city of the region of Navarre, Pamplona is traditionally also seen as the capital of the Basque country and is thus a special place of interest for Basque nationalists. Steeped in ancient heritage, perhaps the most famous event in Pamplona’s annual calendar is the San Fermin festival – an event during which the running of the bulls is the main attraction for visitors from around the world.
Celebrated every July, San Fermin has its roots in the medieval period as both a commercial fair and a secular fiesta. Its famous ‘Encierro’ – or running of the bulls – originated in the late fourteenth century, and remains the festival’s most popular event today. It is said that at Pamplona, Saint Fermin met with his death by being dragged around the streets of the city by bulls – although some say that Saint Fermin was actually martyred at Amiens, France.
1. Launching of the Rockets
The start of the bull run heads off when the church bells of San Fermin strikes at eight o’clock in the morning of July 7. The people who have gathered around the casa, awaits the announcement of the mayor that the fiesta is about to begin. After the announcement, a rocket is fired marking the start of the celebration!
This first rocket also signifies that the gates have now been opened, and that the bull run is about to start.. Runners, with red scarves around their necks pray for a safe run to San Fermin, at this juncture. A second rocket would announce that the bull run have started with the runners following the route towards the bullring. A third launching would further announce that the bulls have now entered the bullring. A fourth and fifth rocket would be fired to signify that all the bulls have now been contained in the bullpen of the building, and that the bull run had ended.
2. The Pamplona Bull Run
The bull run starts at eight o’ clock every morning, from the 7th to the 14th of every month of July. Runners should be in the area before the start-off time, to avoid confusion that may ensue later on. The route starts at the corral of Santo Domingo towards the bullring, which is 825 meters away. The average run is three minutes but can last to ten minutes, if some bulls go off track. The bull run starts at Santo Domingo, then passes through the Ayuntamiento Square and continues down the street of Mercaderes. The route would also pass through the dangerous pathways of Duque de Ahumada and the dead-end sections of the route, on the way to the bullring.
3. Running with the Bulls
The immense popularity of the Pamplona bull run had increased the number of participants that take part in the festivities yearly. Running along the bulls, that weighs an average of 700 kg each, poses undue danger to would-be runners. The number of drunks participating during the runs had also increased the risk several times over. There are plenty of watchers and security personnel manning the route, but they can only do so much during the bull run. Accidents have now reached to around fifteen (15) people dead, and two hundred (200) injured, since 1924 when these bull runs started.
4. Excitement in Watching the Pamplona Bull Runs and Bullfights
You can savor the excitement and fun without the dangers posed in joining the actual bull runs. To do this, you need to be early at the site to get the best vantage points along the route. Since the best spots are always taken before sunrise, it would be advisable for you to be at the site before dawn. Or you can watch it at a nearby bar or restaurant which airs it every morning – live on national television.
The tickets to the bullfights are normally pre-sold before the fights. The seating capacity is only for twelve thousand five hundred (12,500) seats – hence, the clamor for said tickets. There may be scalpers that sells tickets around the area, but these would already be at highly exorbitant prices.
The fun that would be experienced by any spectator or participant in these festivities are exhilarating and simply out of this world! Though the adventure may pose some dangers and risk – it is one fun-filled experience to behold that can last you a whole lifetime!
The dangers posed by the running of the bulls are well-known. Since 1924, 15 people have been killed and over 200 have been seriously injured. However, many of these injuries have been due to inexperienced tourists taking dangerous risks when participating in the ‘Encierro’. But despite these dangers, the atmosphere in Pamplona during San Fermin is overwhelmingly celebratory. In literature, the mood of San Fermin has perhaps best been captured by the American writer Ernest Hemingway, who immortalised the festival in his novel ‘The Sun Also Rises’. In commemoration, Hemingway had a street in Pamplona named after him – Avenida de Hemingway – in order to show the city’s appreciation for this great author.
The Experience To Expect
The run starts in a stretch of old style Spanish street between two tall buildings, loaded with locals making the sign of cross on their foreheads down to the fearless participants below. As you can imagine, it’s slightly unnerving and would be more so if the skin-full of red wine and cola, dancing & no sleep, hadn’t numbed the nerves a tad. It’s quite a sight to behold, if you can imagine a small version of the London Marathon, only with thousands of drunken Spaniards and tourists all dressed in white with red scarves. If you think it sounds like a death wish, it isn’t, because you do get to protect yourself with a rolled up newspaper! Yes that will protect your butt cheeks from the impending doom of a bulls horn. Not!
Your position in the crowd determines your initial safety during the first part of the run. If you’re right at the front you will most likely get into the arena before seeing a bull (as long as you stay on you feet). If you’re at the back the bulls will definitely pass you. So for your first time its best to go near the front until you get the gist of what’s going. We positioned are selves in the front 3rd.
The first gun is for everyone to start running. Running is a slight exaggeration as, if you do run, you will trip over the person in front of you. So you barely make a slow trot along with the rest of crowd. Then moments later the second gun sounds. The bulls are free and running, at full pelt I expect.
The course is 3/4 mile in total and goes from being totally surrounded by buildings with nowhere to escape, to open sections, which have been marked out by wooden barriers sunken into the ground. These are also pretty hard to escape over, as there are teams of spectators peering over and waiting to push the frantic and afraid back into the affray.
Chaos is about the best term to describe the run and that was without even seeing a bull on the course. You then run through the entrance to the arena, which is a concrete corridor about 50 feet long. This is the most dangerous spot and one you definitely don’t want to get involved in a pile up here. Once through the entrance you run into the arena, a great way to see it for the first time and for the Life of Brian fans amongst you, a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to live out the gladiator scene for real. The bulls eventually appear, bringing you back to reality and run straight through the crowd into an enclosure at the back of the arena. Next “they” (the crazy perpetrators of the event who are obviously hell bent on killing or at least maiming the odd participant) let smaller, more energetic bulls out, one at-a-time, to cause some mayhem. These bulls have leather protectors on their horns to protect the crowd at least, meaning that if you do get charged you won’t die, a slow and pain full death, but you might get thrown into the air a few feet and land on your head! The hard bit about this is that there are a thousand other people in the bull ring, which makes spotting the bulls very difficult. Suddenly the crowd in front of you parts to reveal a crazed bull running directly at you at full pelt, head down and closing fast. My natural instinct was to run and throw myself head first over the 6 foot high barrier. In a normal situation this would be seen as a reckless and dangerous stunt but considering the circumstances I felt it was a carefully considered life saving maneuver and one that meant I survived with everything but my pride intact!
Once everyone has got used to the smaller bulls, they let the, now rested, larger bulls out into the crowd, to shake things up-a-bit. This is obviously much more dangerous, as you can imagine, what could happen if one of these steps on your head. Luckily during our run there were no serious injuries (I think), but they do have severe injuries all the time, so don’t take this past-time too lightly. The year that I ran an American chap aged 22 died and became one of the 15 death since 1924. In fact everyday they post pictures of that day’s run for the participants to buy. Also all around the town there are pictures from the past, with some pretty sobering images of accidents that have happened. I suppose this is done to remind the runners that the worst thing that can happen is death! A pretty extreme sport all-in-all!
Tips for survival at the Pampalona – San Fermin
Try and familiarise yourself with the course before hand, just like in any other festivals around the world of this kind or that may involve injury. Don’t run before you have watched a run. Be aware that falling and being trampled by people is one of the main dangers. If you fall, stay down, cover your head & wait until an onlooker taps you on the shoulder. Its more dangerous to try and get up at this stage. Be aware that Callejon-Plaza de Toros and the end section of Cuesta de Santo Domingo are the most dangerous area. These spots have claimed a total of 12 lives over the years Stay tight to the corners as the bulls run wide. Don’t be drunk and get some sleep. Even with this advice running the bulls at Pampalona can be extremely dangerous.
Pamplona is just over two hours journey away from the city of Bilbao, so if you’re thinking about travelling to Pamplona for the festival of San Fermin, you’ll find frequent flights to Bilbao from London. Just make sure that your behaviour is responsible and careful in order to reduce the risk of being in the firing line during the running of the bulls.
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