Spain in-depth: Festivals

San Fermin Festival: the Running of the Bulls

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San Fermín: the Running of the bulls

The running of the Bulls of San Fermin, known as the San Fermin Festival, is celebrated each year in the city of Pamplona from the 7th to the 14th of July.  

The start of these bull runs at any town festival goes back to the necessity of transporting the animals from the holding pens outside the city to the plaza where they will engage in the San Fermin bull fights later in the evening.  

In Pamplona’s case, the butchers’ labor union – the ones who got the bulls for the fights accompanied the shepherds behind the cattle during transport until one day, running in front of the bulls became a popular entertainment. Up until 1852 before the actual bull ring (plaza de toros) was built, there was no set route for the bulls to run. In 1899 the route was shortened starting at the Plaza de Santo Domingo and ending at the Plaza de Toros.   San Fermin is, together with Las Fallas in Valencia and Easter in Seville, one of the top festivals in Spain

For those who would like to run, the running of the bulls is free, however to participate you need to know a few important details such as the opening hours for access from 6:30 am to 7:30 am through the main door of the town hall square (Plaza Consistorial). You must also comply with certain basic rules that; failure to do so could result in sanctions. 

To avoid accidents we would first advise you to choose your running path wisely as all of the routes combined amount to a bit less than one kilometer and it is impossible to complete all of them. The fastest one is the Santo Domingo path; the one with the most risky reputation is the Mercaderes; the zone of the  Estafeta is the most wide open and finally the Plaza is the most spectacular one but also a bit dangerous due to its very narrow entry.  

Secondly, prior to the first “bang” indicating the start of the bull fight at precisely 8am, you should warm up as you would before any demanding physical activity to prevent injuries and to be ready to sprint. The second “bang” indicates that the bulls are out of the pen.   

Once you see the bulls approaching you need to start running slowly so that you can eventually accelerate when they get closer and also to find a good spot depending on what lies ahead and behind you. It is very important that, when you can’t run anymore, you remove yourself to the side quickly and safely so as not to endanger yourself and the rest of the runners. Your “running of the bulls” ends when you overtake the bulls. When the third “bang” sounds you still won’t know if all the bulls have arrived to the plaza. Once the fourth “bang” sounds you will know that the bulls have already been locked in pens. 

If you were unlucky and got knocked over by a bull, or just simply fell on the ground, do not get up and cover your head with your hands while following the instructions of the shepherds and guiders. Never touch the bulls!  

For tourists who don’t want to miss any detail of the running of the bulls and want to immortalize the celebration with their cameras, we recommend renting time on balconies that overlook the streets. These balconies rent between 80 to 150 euros per person and if you like, you can have breakfast served while waiting for the “bang”. From the balconies on the slope of Santo Domingo, you can hear the chants of the runners before the loud “bang”: A San Fermín pedimos, por ser nuestro patrón, nos guíe en el encierro, dándonos su bendición”. (“We ask San Fermín to be our patron saint, to guide us in the bull fight, giving us his blessing.”) 

You can also “live” the San Fermin Bull Run from the streets, however you can’t see much since spectators must remain behind a second fencing for safety.  If you prefer a calmer, less expensive option you can watch from the town hall square. The price is 6 euros (free for kids) and you will be able to watch the running of the bulls and see them enter the arena from giant screens.