San Fermin Festival Bull Running in Pamplona
San Fermin was the son of a Roman official in Pamplona who was converted to Christianity by Saint Honestus and baptized by Saint Saturninus. He was ordained a priest in Toulouse and later returned to Pamplona as its bishop. Returning to France on a preaching mission in 303 CE, he was beheaded in Amiens, for which reason he is now considered a martyr of the Catholic Church, and, along with Saint Francis Xavier, a patron saint of Navarra.
In Pamplona, the capital city of Navarra, the feast of San Fermin is celebrated from July 6 to 14. Evidence indicates that the feast has been celebrated since the 13th century. Although it was meant to be a religious celebration, over the years, dancing, music, drinking, street theaters, and rowdy revelry began to be incorporated into the festivities. Indeed, as early as the 17th century, the clergy were complaining of the loss of the religious significance of the event.
Bull running, called encierro in Spain, also began to appear during the feast of Saint Fermin as early as the 14th century. According to Spanish tradition, bull running began out of the need to transport cattle to the market for sale. To speed up the animals, men bullied, browbeat, and even frightened them. Since the first to arrive at the market would get the best location, their owners became adept at hurrying the cattle, and over time, this turned into a competition.
Bull runs are held in several cities and towns in Spain, Portugal, France, Mexico, and even Nevada, but the most famous of these, thanks to Ernest Hemingway, is the Pamplona bull run.
The Pamplona run is held everyday from July 7 to 14. Before it begins, the participants (who could be anybody who is at least 18 years old) intone a benediction, first in Spanish and then in Basque, seeking the blessing and protection of San Fermin. The runners dress in the traditional white shirt and pants, with red neckerchiefs and waistbands.
A rocket is fired at exactly 8:00 am which signals that the gate of the Santo Domingo corral is opened. A second rocket tells the runners that six bulls have been released and that they should begin running. From the corral they head to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, sprint down Calle Estafeta until Curva de Telefonica, and into the bullring at Plaza de Toros.
A third rocket is fired once the bulls reach the bullring, and a fourth signals that they are already in their pens and that the run is completed. The distance of the run is 826 meters, and is usually completed in approximately 20 minutes running at an average speed of 24 kph.
If you are intimidated by the bulls, you can still enjoy watching the bull run from behind the fences. Be sure to arrive early though, perhaps as early as 6:30, to get a good spot. If you are the friendly kind, you can sweet talk one of the locals who have a house with a balcony overlooking the route of the run into inviting you in.