The annual San Fermin festival starts today in the Basque town of Pamplona and runs until the 14th of July. It is the most popular and most famous of all Spanish fiestas and is known throughout the world and visited each year by thousands of foreign tourists. This fame is down to the infamous “Encierro” or the “Running of the Bulls”, a dangerous tradition where thousands 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 is much more to the festival than just the “Encierro” and they include a lot of other ancient traditions as well as a fair dose of drinking and partying.

The festival starts today at midday with the “chupizano”; the firing of a rocket which indicates that the festival has officially begun. Thousands of locals gather in the central square in front of the town hall and the uproar as the rocket is fired can be deafening. Thousands 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. A week of fully fledged partying is only just beginning.

The “Encierro” is clearly the most famous part of the festival and is probably the thing that has caused such a huge influx of foreign visitors to the city in recent years wishing to take part in (or at least witness) the famous spectacle. The course is just a shade over 800 metres and takes the bulls to the bullring for the afternoon “corrida” (bullfight). Six bulls are released every morning of the fiesta between the 7 th and the 14 th at 8am. The human runners pack the course, buzzing from nervous energy and adrenalin and dressed in white with their traditional red neckerchiefs. A rocket is fired to indicate that the bulls have been released and three minutes of white-knuckle madness begins as runners try to pick a suitable point to exit the course without putting themselves in harms way.

There’s no doubting the extremely dangerous nature of the “Encierro”; between 1924 and 1997 there have been fourteen deaths and over 200 serious injuries with the last fatality occurring in 2009 when a 27 year old man was fatally gored. The “Encierro” is serious business and a rite of passage for the young Spaniards, many claim that the influx of tourists (who’s experience of bulls, let alone running with them, is non-existent) is making the “Encierro” even more dangerous.

The focal point of much of the festival is the afternoon “Corridas” which take place at Pamplona ’s bullring. Due to the late night partying many locals don’t resurface until the afternoon to begin the next round of festivities.

Other highlights of the festival include the “Comparsa de Gigantes” (the company of Giants), a parade where enormous puppets file through the town accompanied by brass bands and Guiri Day (Guiri is the Basque word for foreigners) where the festival pays homage to the overseas visitors who help make the festival what it is. The city of 200,000 is said to swell to 2 million for the duration of the festival. Visitors can expect lots of street parties lasting into the early hours with vast amounts of alcohol flowing. It is in general a very good natured festival with very little trouble.

It all comes to a dramatic and emotional close at midnight on July 14 th with a massive crowd singing the mournful dirge “Pobre di Mi” (Poor Me) – it’s a magical, candle-lit end to a week of bacchanalian revelry and once experienced, you can see why it attracts such a myriad of foreign visitors.

Bookmark Or Email This Page