Running of The Bulls in Pamplona
The excitement you feel your first time in Pamplona during
the San Fermin Festival is something almost indescribable.
Every sense is assaulted in the most magical way and you
realize you've arrived at one of the most thrilling and unusual
religious celebrations in the world.
Pamplona, situated in the Northern Spanish province of
Navarra, attracts thousands of visitors annually from the
6th to the
14th. Of July. They come to enjoy the celebrations for San
Fermin, the patron saint of the city, but mostly they come
to see the Running of the Bulls or "Encierro" made
world famous by avid visitor and adopted Pamplonica, the
writer Ernest Hemingway.
The history of how this particular run,
for there are many throughout Spain, evolved is actually
quite simple. It began
during the festival when the bulls being used in the bullfight
that evening were "run" by the drovers from their
enclosure through the streets and into the pens within the
bullring "Plaza de Toros". The exciting event became
popular with locals who decided to also run along with the
bulls. From this the more daring challenge of running in
front of the bulls took off. Since 1852 the route from Santo
Domingo Street, through the Plaza Consistorial and along
Estafeta Street via the dangerously twisting Mercaderes Street
has remained unchanged.
The San Fermin festival begins proper at 12 mid-day on
the 6th of July when a firework, the "Txupinazo",
is ceremoniously set off from the Town Hall in the Plaza
Thousands gather for this moment when sprays of corks explode
into the air and champagne drenches the packed crowd. The
streets are filled with singing, cheering and revelry while
the whole population of Pamplona and their visitors tie around
their necks the distinctive red, San Fermin scarf and commence
partying - continuing this non-stop high until the 14th of
July. The streets buzz constantly with laughter, music, organised
concerts and many other special events with the daily morning
Bull Run and nightly bull fight being two of the biggest
The act of "Running with the bulls" is by no
means an easy task. As time goes by the number of injuries
deaths increase, the last mortality having been in 1995 when
a young American, Peter Mathews Tasio, was dramatically killed
on the horns of a bull. One of the most tragic runs took
place in 1947 when the same bull "Semillero" killed
two people. And again in 1980 a bull named "Antioquio" also
left two fatally wounded. Serious injuries are also on the
increase often caused by falls and sometimes stabs from a
horn. On these occasions lives were saved purely by the efficiency
of the local ambulance service. That said, it is an incredible
spectacle and people still run undeterred.
The run itself is about half a mile long through cobbled,
narrow streets marked out by a tall, sturdy double-lined
fence. The gap between the fences is strictly for police,
medical teams and runners who need to make a quick escape.
Spectators must stay outside the second fence where can be
found a number of good vantagepoints along the route. These
include the Plaza Consistorial, and the end of Mercaderes
Street as well as Estafeta Street. Other good locations are
the starting point in Santo Domingo Street and the entrance
to the Plaza de Toros. To secure a good spot, you´ll
need to get there between 5.30am and 6.30am as any later
and you´ll be battling the crowds. Early mornings are
cold so be sure to wrap up well.
Alternative viewing possibilities
include the renting of a balcony from a local. These start
at about 4000 pesetas
(IR19.00). Phone numbers are available at the tourist office
in the Plaza San Francisco or sometimes renters will hang
a notice from their balcony. Free seats are available in
the bullring where you can watch the bulls and runners charging
into the ring at the end of the run. But by far the Best
coverage of all is on the TV. The run is shown live every
morning and viewers can enjoy the entire run plus action
For those crazy folk who choose to take part in the challenging
run then there are a number of basic guidelines to be followed.
- It is forbidden to run if are under 18.
- Never, ever run if you are drunk or excessively tired.
- Do not carry items such as cameras, videos, backpacks,
etc.. They´ll get damaged or impede your exit. Unsuitable
clothing or footwear is forbidden.
- You must enter the route at an official gate either
at the Plaza Consistorial or at the Plaza del Mercado.
- Never stand still during the run.
- While running you must be sure to look all around you.
Up ahead for other runners who might trip you and behind
the bulls. This is not a race and you won't be able to
run the entire route so have in mind beforehand a spot
you plan to exit. The bulls run very fast and will be ahead
of you before you know it.
- Do not try to touch the bulls or catch their attention
as a distracted bull may decide to break from the herd.
bull is extremely dangerous and much more likely to attack.
Also the drovers, who carry very large poles, do not
tolerate messing and freely whack offenders.
you should fall there is one and only one thing to do.
Stay down and
cover your head. When all the bulls have passed someone
will tap you on the shoulder to let you know you're
safe. It was
by attempting to stand up that Peter Mathews Tasio
was fatally gored. You may receive some bumps and bruises
but that should
- If you happen to run the last section of the route into
the bullring then upon entering the ring spread out to
and let the drovers do their work of sidling the bulls
into the pen. There will be a lot of runners in the ring
a distracted bull can cause serious danger.
the run like? The moment before the actual run begins is
full of anticipation and nervous energy. At the starting
line on the steep and cobbled Santo Domingo Street the
runners gather and repeatedly sing their simple prayer
to a small statue of San Fermin, which is placed, in a
niche in the wall overlooking the crowd. At exactly 8am
explodes and the gate of the bull enclosure is flung open
freeing the beasts, each weighing 500-600 KGs, and allowing
them to commence their run through the streets. A second
firework is heard a moment later to signal that all the
bulls have been released. There are normally about 10 to
followed by several "caBestros" which are harmless
bell carrying cows that help the drovers to guide the bulls
and collect any strays.
The atmosphere is electric as the crowd cheers, gasps
and screams. The runners sprint forward, heads turning
trying to stay fully alert and focused on what´s
happening and when exactly they should make their escape
- some diving
into doorways and others leaping fences. Each section of
the run is different and each has its own unique dangers.
It´s mad, frantic and magic all at the same time
and it´s over before you know it. The feeling afterwards
is quite amazing. Some spectators are shocked while others
are incredulous. Locals and experienced runners take it
all in their stride and re-commence partying. First time
and those who´ve had a narrow escape or even a near
death experience are found wandering or sitting quietly
no doubt sharing a few grateful moments with San Fermin
The injured nurse bruises and cuts while bravados hoot
and holler and boast loudly to their companions. Everywhere
be heard the festive music of the traditional brass bands
known as "charangas" who play continuously as
they tour the streets, plazas and bars livening up every
of every festive day.
The nightly bullfights, which take
place at 6.30pm, are also a noisy, colorful affair. However,
tickets are quite
and vary in price depending on whether you choose a shaded
seat or a seat in the sun. The latter being the cheapest.
Dining in Pamplona during San Fermin tends to be done
very much on the go unless you make a restaurant reservation.
All bars serve the popular and very tasty miniature treats
known as "pinchos" (like tapas but more varied).
A typical early morning breakfast might include "caldo" which
is a delicious clear soup or "chocolate con churros",
a large mug of thick hot chocolate served with fried dough
and coated in sugar. The tasty spanish omelette known as "tortilla" is
available everywhere. And a local drink which you´re
certain to encounter is "kalimotxo" a 50/50 mix
of coke and wine. Not as bad as it sounds.
Hotel accommodation in Pamplona and the surrounding area
during the festival is at a premium and needs to be reserved
early. Another option is camping although the nearest
site is several miles from the city and again needs to
early. Many visitors simply try to last the pace grabbing
a few hours sleep here and there to keep them going and
sleeping outdoors happens everywhere.
An excellent alternative for those wishing to combine
the experience of San Fermin with a more complete and
tour is to stay in any of the neighbouring cities of
Vitoria, Bilbao or San Sebastian. All offer a variety
options and frequent bus services specially laid on
for the San Fermin festival. Local specialist Tour Company,
Spain owned by Dubliner, Ken Baldwin are offering special
packages and can provide all the necessary information.
One final word if you are to truly enjoy the festival,
obey the authorities and have respect for this incredibly
Totally Spain - Experts in Tailor made travel to the Basque
Country and Green Spain.