Known locally as “Sanfermines”, this raucous festival occurs in the Basque town of Pamplona between July 6th-14th in honour of the city’s patron saint, San Fermin. It’s the most popular & most famous of most Spanish fiestas and is well known across the world and visited every year by a large number of foreign tourists. This fame is right down to the infamous “Encierro” or the “Running of the Bulls”, a dangerous tradition where a large number of locals line the streets of Pamplona’s old town and run the gauntlet will six half ton bulls over an 800 metre stretch. There’s a lot more to the festival than simply the “Encierro” plus they include a large amount of other ancient traditions in addition to a fair dose of drinking and partying.
The origins of the festival are somewhat convoluted; it appears that on the centuries several traditions and festivals have amalgamated into one week-long fiesta. The festival of San Fermin was originally held in September but was used in July in 1591 because of the unpredictable nature of the autumn weather. Bull running appears to date back again to the 14th century and there exists a tradition of everything over Spain where numerous towns and villages practice the ritual within their festivals.
The festival all starts with the “chupizano”; the firing of a rocket which indicates that the festival has officially begun. A large number of locals gather in the central square while watching town hall and the uproar because the rocket is fired could be deafening. A large number of Cava corks are popped and bottles are sprayed around with much cheer. The packed square then don their famous red neckerchiefs and tie their red sashes around their waists. Weekly of fully-fledged partying is just beginning.
The “Encierro” is actually probably the most famous facet to the festival and is just about the thing which has caused this type of huge influx of foreign people to the city recently wishing to be a part of (or at the very least witness) the famous spectacle. The course is a shade over 800 metres and takes the bulls to the bullring for the afternoon “corrida” (bullfight). Six bulls are released each morning of the fiesta between your 7th and the 14th at 8am. The human runners pack the course, buzzing from nervous energy and adrenalin and attired in white making use of their traditional red adornments. A rocket is fired to point that the bulls have already been released and 3 minutes of white-knuckle madness begins as runners make an effort to select a suitable indicate exit the course without putting themselves in harms way.
There is no doubting the extremely dangerous nature of the “Encierro”; between 1924 and 1997 there were fourteen deaths and over 200 serious injuries with the final fatality occurring in 1995 whenever a young American tourist was fatally gored. The “Encierro” is serious business and a rite of passage for the young Spaniards, many declare that the influx of tourists (who’s connection with bulls, aside from running using them, is non-existent) is making the “Encierro” a lot more dangerous.
The center point of a lot of the festival may be the afternoon “Corridas” which happen at Pamplona’s bullring. Because of the night time partying many locals don’t resurface before afternoon to begin with another round of festivities. Other highlights of the festival are the “Comparsa de Gigantes” (the business of Giants), a parade where enormous puppets file through the city associated with brass bands and Guiri Day (Guiri may be the Basque word for foreigners) where in fact the festival pays homage to the overseas visitors who help to make the festival what it really is. The town of 200,000 is thought to swell to 2 million throughout the festival. Visitors can get plenty of street parties advancing in to the early hours and vast levels of alcohol to be flowing. It really is in general an excellent natured festival and trouble and aggression are rarely met.
Everything involves a dramatic and emotional close at nighttime on July 14th with an enormous crowd singing the mournful dirge “Pobre di Mi” (Poor Me) – it is a magical, candle-lit end to weekly of bacchanalian revelry and, once experience, we are able to understand why it attracts foreign visitors such vast numbers.