Fiesta de San Fermín originated as a week long celebration in honour of Saint Fermin. It’s said that he was dragged to death by bulls on the very same streets of Pamplona that the famous running of the bulls is hosted. San Fermín actually blends together three separate fiestas together; the feast day of San Fermín, an ancient trade fair and a bullfighting festival.
It all started in the 14th century when cattle herders ran with the bulls down narrow streets on the way to the markets. These runs were soon transformed into a competition where herders would try to outrun the bulls, displaying a huge dose of showmanship and Spanish bravado. This intense and adrenaline packed festival first began in 1591 on the 7th of July and has been held annually since.
The festival of San Fermín begins with ‘feast day’ where a huge crowd wait in Pamplona’s Plaza Ayuntamiento for a countdown until fiesta time! The launch is marked by a rocket at midday on 6th July to unleash nine consecutive days of partying, Spanish style. Each day includes a bull run, a parade of the gigantes also known as big headed giants, a bullfight, fireworks and lots of partying.
The whole bull run is made by a series of four rockets. The first announces the start where participants enter the streets, anxiously waiting the arrival of the bulls. The second rocket signals the release of the bulls into the streets, where two tame herds of steer serve as bull guides. Let the chaos commence! Run like you’ve never run before! The third rocket means the bulls have entered the bullring; while the final rocket signifies the bulls have reached their pens.
The bull run in detail
Every day from 7th to 14th July, nervous crowds arrive early in the morning dressed all in white with red sashes and bandanas to hold, all awaiting the sound of the rockets. If you are here to spectate, it’s wise to get there very early for a good spot – the course is blocked off with a double wall so you will need to make sure you find somewhere with a good view. Some people even pay to watch from local’s balcony’s for an enhanced view of the chaos ahead.
For those running in the San Fermín festival, the only official entry point to the run is at the gateway to town hall, usually from 6:30 – 7:30 am. For those who have not run with the bulls before, it’s definitely wise to walk the course beforehand. Get yourself familiar with where you are planning to run and so you can scout out the dangerous spots on the corners – especially ‘Dead Man’s Corner’. If there is a pile up on the street, you need to know where to sneak off to unless you want to be gored by a raging bull!
At around 8:00 am, you’ll hear the blast of the first rocket, this announces the bulls being released into the streets. This initiates the crowd chanting, “Viva San Fermín! Gora San Fermín!” which translates to “We ask San Fermín, because he is our Patron, to guide us through the bull run, giving us his blessing.” whilst the hoofed bulls come storming out onto the streets, catching up to the runners very quickly!
As the runners continue crazily running for their lives along the half mile course, they will soon hit carnage at the famous hairpin corner on Estafeta Street halfway through the race. Also known as “Dead Man’s Corner” due to the pileups, the best route through is to swing wide, keeping out the way of the congestion and of course, the bulls charging behind you!
Once you’ve passed the hairpin turn, you’ll hit the final stretch leading you towards the entrance to the bullring. This last leg of the race is the most dangerous part due to a bottleneck of runners all wanting to escape. With a dozen bulls chasing you down the final stretch to the bullring, you’ll be hard to find anything else as exhilarating, and you won’t have run as fast in your life until now. If you’ve made it this far, well done you’ve survived to tell the tale for the next day of bull running! 😉
When all runners and the dozen bulls are in the bullring, the pastores direct the bulls back into their pens. For those who are happy and thankful to be alive, this is the unofficial end of the race and is worth escaping if you’ve had enough. For some runners, they want more of a chase and thrill – so a few minutes later the bulls are released back into the ring with the remaining runners in an unofficial bullfight. Participants use rolled up newspapers to act as swords, while the raging bulls charge in their direction.
After the unofficial bullfight is finished, the traditional bullfighting takes place, which is not for everyone, especially those who have strong beliefs in animal welfare.