The Running of the Bulls (in Spanish, Encierro) is, without a doubt, the most famous part of the Festival of San Fermín or Sanfermines. They are broadcasted in many different countries, and for more than a week, they open the news of the Spanish national TV channels. However, the Sanfermines have way more things to offer other than the Running of the Bulls and a daily bullfight.
Sanfermines is the name of the Summer Festival of Pamplona, a city of 200.000 people in the North of Spain. During 9 days in the month of July -the normally quiet and clean city of Pamplona- becomes the craziest and loudest place on Earth. 204 hours of non-stop party and events, not only for the young people but for the whole family, from kids to seniors.
At first sight, Sanfermines may not seem that different from other Spanish festivals: concerts, fireworks, bullfights, parades… However, the ancient roots of this celebration – it has been taking place since at least Medieval Ages- and the incredible full of life atmosphere, make Sanfermines a very special experience to live.
During several centuries, this festival was just a local celebration in honor of San Fermín, the first bishop of Pamplona, who lived in the 3rd century. It wasn’t until 1926, when Ernst Hemingway’s book, The sun also rises, making this celebration internationally famous.
This book, whose plot is mainly set in the festivity of San Fermín, allowed many English-speakers from all over the world to know about the festival. The word of mouth and the media did the rest.
Since then, people from all around the world (from places as far away as Japan, USA, Colombia, Australia or Mexico) come to Pamplona to have fun and, many of them, to live their weird dream of running in front of 600 kg fighting bulls in a traditional European scenario.
The Running of the Bulls, known as encierro in Spanish, is a run in front of 12 bulls (6 fighting bulls and 6 steers) along the streets of the Historic Area of the city. This run takes place every day, from July 7 to July 14 at 8 am, and lasts barely 3 minutes.
For some locals, running in front of the bulls is a personal challenge, and they usually train throughout the year to get fit for this dangerous and fast run. For most of them though, it's considered a crazy cultural tradition that it's better to enjoy passively from behind the fence.
For many foreign visitors, however, participate in the Running of the Bulls is just an original way to have fun. A once-in-a-lifetime experience in exotic Spanish ground. Most of them are not aware of how dangerous this tradition may be and is not rare to see international visitors badly injured during the run.
But let’s move forward since the Running of the Bulls is just a small part of the amazing Fiestas de San Fermín.
The Council of Pamplona spends hundreds of thousands of euros every year to make sure that Sanfermines is much more than a bunch of bulls running in a crowded street. The festival program includes activities and shows for all the ages and most tastes.
If you visit Pamplona during the festival, you’ll find concerts in different parts of the city; a 9 days international fireworks contest; the Saint Fermín parade; tons of food and drinks in every corner of the city; street performers, etc.
But if you’re looking for something more genuine, real Spanish (or better, basque-Navarre) folklore, there’s something for you too. You may find the following events especially interesting, since they are specifically typical of this part of Spain, and therefore, you won’t find them in most Spanish cities.
Traditional Basque sports (Herri Kirolak): Every morning there are competitions of ancient rural sports, including stone lifting, wood cutting, or hay bale lifting.
Gigantes y Cabezudos: Every morning there’s also a parade of Gigantes y Cabezudos (giants and big-heads). The giants are more than 150 years old and their height is around 4 meters. They are carried by a dancer inside a wooden structure, who make them dance to the rhythm of traditional songs.
Jotas: Jotas are a traditional type of music typical of Navarra (the region of which Pamplona is the capital city). In Sanfermines, you will be able to see the performances of the joteros, who sing honoring Saint Fermín and the beautiful land of Navarra.
El Estruendo (The Roar): People gather at 11:59 pm at the City Hall and make as much noise as possible for several hours using drums, whistles, bowls, or any object you can make noise with.
I'm sure you'd love to experience this famous festival in person, but if you haven't saved enough to fly to Pamplona this year, don't worry! You can still have a clue of what this fiesta is all about with a click of your mouse. There’s a lot of resources available online. Here are just some of my favorite ones:
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Activities for kids -- Rufino Lasaosa, https://www.flickr.com/photos/rlasaosa/5939727178/sizes/n/in/photostream/
Pamplona City Hall -- Pamplona Rathaus 2005, http://ca.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ajuntament_de_Pamplona#mediaviewer/Fitxer:Pamplona_Rathaus_2005.jpg
Sanfermines Chupinazo --http://corredordeencierros.blogspot.ca/2008_06_01_archive.html
Activities for seniors -- Rufino Lasaosa, https://www.flickr.com/photos/rlasaosa/5943256155/sizes/n/in/photostream/