la corsa dei tori a Pamplona

The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona: Guide to the San Fermin Bull Ring

It’s really strange: the party of San Fermin in Pamplonain the north of the Spainunites the cult of a very short-lived saint, a swagger american writer adrenaline seekers and six bulls running along a cobbled street. As a recipe, you cannot think of a more bizarre recipe: yet it is one of the most famous popular festivals in the world. And this is also curious since the running of the bulls in pamplona is universally known while the hundred other Spanish cities nobody knows who organize similar events to celebrate their saints.

The reason? We said it above: everything is due to the fact that Ernest Hemingway arrived here in 1925. The novel that recounts that journey, the well-known fiesta, made the running of the bulls in Pamplona famous. And projected Hemingway’s name into the empyrean of writers.

The running of the bulls in Pamplona: a book and an ancient ritual

Of course, the book is hardly a guide tourist on the celebration of San Firmin but it tells of the vague search for happiness by a group of people who are a bit confused but, in the background, what makes the fiesta something special appears: drink wine at dawn, staying up all night, dancing with strangers after a bullfight. For young foreigners with little money, the 1920s was irresistible. The funny thing is that it still is today for many others.

the running of the bulls in Pamplona

The city has gotten big

Yet, except for the running of the bulls, Hemingway he wouldn’t recognize the party today (but that goes for his too Paris, Key West or theHavana). Yes, because the sleepy town of Pamplona, ​​what used to be a peasant village of 30,000 people has become one industrial city of 200,000 inhabitants, site of a Volkswagen factory and of two universities. In addition, thanks to its location a short distance from France, it attracts a lot of people.

The settlement was founded by the ancient Basques already many centuries before Christ: they called it “Irun“, which means “the city”. And still today their descendants call it that. In 75 BC the Romans established their own camp taking advantage of its strategic position which then made it the capital of the Kingdom of Navarre and the result was that Pamplona, ​​in the Middle Ages, flourished thanks to commercial traffic and above all thanks to the transit of Christian pilgrims engaged in I walk directed to Santiago de Compostela; the mighty Gothic churches of San Saturnino And St. Nicholas are still filled with treasures while much of the old city’s fortifications remain standing, making Pamplona’s massive walls among the best preserved in Spain.


Pamplona: a city overrun with people

But it is the running of the bulls in Pamplona that draws the real crowds that every year come among on 6 and 14 July. In nine days the city is overrun by one and a half million people which end up merging into the historic center of the city, a tiny area after all. Most stop for just one or two days but the flow is relentless. It is something overwhelming that changes the rules of living: the city makes available medical emergency teams on 24-hour alert, thousands of volunteers to clean the streets from tons of rubbish, police patrols everywhere and temporary toilets. Many of the residents pack up and leave if they can.

However, there are many more who stay, and not because they have to. They love their party and live it wholeheartedly despite the chaos. Those who come from outside think that partying is about drinking excessively and staying awake endlessly. For the people of Pamplona, ​​however, it is a profound opportunity to live and celebrate a tradition and a way of being. And the party is in people’s hearts.

The running of the bulls in Pamplona

Pamplona and the patron saint

The origin of the festival is a mix of two medieval events. On the one hand, there was a big one cattle festival which, as a side event, was celebrated with a series of bullfights already in the 14th century even if the bullfighting as we know it, more or less today, it is only first documented in the 17th century. Along with this, there is the cult of San Ferminthe first Catholic bishop of the city, who was beheaded during a trip to Franceand therefore considered a martyr for the Catholic Church. Religious ceremonies in honor of the saint were originally held on October 10th. But in 1591 it was decided to move them to July 7, to coincide with the cattle fair. And also because the people in the meantime got tired of praying shivering due to the typical autumn bad weather.

Talk to the mayor

The feast of San Fermin, the one that many know only for the running of the bulls, begins with the Chupinazo, the event that takes place on July 6 at exactly noon. It consists of a short speech given by the mayor or a representative of him – or a local celebrity – ending with the sentence: “Pamplonesas. Long live San Fermin. Gora San Fermin” after which a rocket is fired.

The town hall square is full of people with red bandanas tied around the neck already a couple of hours before the event, and for most people, this is the last sobriety for the next seven days. Then they leave songs and music as rockets explode. It will all end in tears – 204 hours later, to be exact, at midnight on July 14 – when many of the same people meet again at the same venue for the closing ceremony, the “Pobre de mi.They’ll untie their red bandanas and sing mournfully, “Poor me, poor me, the party’s over…”

The running of the bulls in Pamplona: ready for the bull run

But let’s get to the real running of the bulls in Pamplona. To mark the course and prevent the bulls from scattering at 7 every morning of the race teams of employees raise the wooden barriers along the encierro path: it is a question of one barrier of more than 3,000 pieces, between planks and poles, which is then partially disassembled and reassembled the next day. Shortly after the runners get ready. Their number fluctuates between dai three thousand and up everyday. And these are people of all ages.

Before running everyone recites the traditional prayer to San Fermin invoking his protection and then you go to position yourself at various points along the stretch of road, from the fence to the bullring, where the animals will then be let out. Thousands of onlookers cling to barriers while every window and balcony overlooking the street is packed with spectators, many of whom have paid handsomely for that privileged view.

The running of the bulls in Pamplona

The Running of the Bulls: 825 meters of adrenaline

at 8 the explosion of a rocket reports that the six bulls they have come out of the fence and are on their way. Bulls cover the distance of 825 meters in about three or four minutes and there are spots where the animals run really fast but there are instances where the bulls stop or stay behind. And then the time increases and also the danger. Racers need to choose carefully which section of road they want to run because they will usually be able to flank them and see close up for a few meters. Those who watch from the outside, on the other hand, should know that everything is very fast: i bulls are seen for a little more than three or four seconds.


Obviously the running of the bulls in Pamplona is very dangerous: in recent decades there have been a fifteen dead and a huge number of wounded. It seems that the negative record dates back to 2007 when they occurred in just one day over 100 injured more or less serious. Finally at 18.30 the same bulls are started to bullring for the bullfight. It is a show that many criticize and would like to ban. But for the locals it is instead a much loved tradition: normally, all tickets for these events, which take place from 7 to 14, they are out of stock months in advance.

The running of the bulls in Pamplona

The running of the bulls in Pamplona: useful tips

And finally here the rules for those wishing to run the encierro drawn up by the experts. Only one is missing: think about it. And reflect if you feel like it and are able to deal with it.
First of all don’t try to touch the bulls: you would run the risk of attracting their attention. And they react with butts. if you fall, don’t try to get up. But protect your head by remaining in the fetal position until the bulls pass. Remember that a bull runs faster than you. Plus him it has four legs and weighs half a ton.

Another important thing: a single bull, isolated, is more dangerous than when in a group. Finally pay attention to the curve Mercaderes. Best approached from the inside, as the bulls often strike or fall outwards and may crush you against the barriers. And very last: never run if you have been drinking. It’s dangerous to do it alone on an empty road – let alone with a bull chasing you.

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