Spain is home to some of the most unique festivals in the world: city wide tomato fights, funerals for sardines and one of its most well-known: Encierro or Running with the Bulls.
The Running of the Bulls is every adventurous traveller or risk taker’s dream. The event is held during the festival of San Fermin in city of Pamplona in Navarre, Spain – and it is definitely one of a kind.
The Running of the Bulls also takes place in other cities in Spain as well as in southern France like the city of Bayonne – but it is in Pamplona that the festival originated where it is most popular – and crowded.
History of The Running of the Bulls and the Fiesta of San Fermin
The fiesta of San Fermin, originally Sanfermines, was named after Saint Fermin, the patron saint of Pamplona. It is a 7 day celebration that begins July 7 at noon and ends July 14 at midnight. The week’s celebrations include many games and traditional events that have been passed on through Spanish folk tradition and culture since the late 1500’s.
Cattle merchants and farmers would come into town to participate in the festivals, bringing with them their bulls and oxen. After some time, bullfighting (corridas) became a part of the festival’s events. When bull herders would bring the bulls to the stadium for the bullfights, townspeople and children would pretend to imitate bullfighters. It is said that this is how the event of the Running of the Bulls or Encierro got started.
Today’s Encierro or Running of the Bulls: What To Expect
While bullfighting is reserved for the professionals, anyone can participate in the running of the bulls as long as they sign up. Today’s participants are mostly tourists and most of the injuries that are caused are by the trampling crowds rather than the bulls.
Before the Race
As there are various possible paths, it is important for runners to come prepared with a route and a strategy, as bulls are more likely to take certain streets.
Before the race begins, it is customary for runners to pray to the statue of Saint Fermin to ask for protection throughout the race. Traditionally, runners dress in white with a bit of red and can only bring that day’s newspaper for protection from bull.
Ready, Set, Go!
As the race begins, the first rocket is set off, and a gate is open for the runners to start. The bulls are taunted and teased behind a barricade right before the event, and shortly after the first rocket, a second rocket is set off which signals that six bulls have been released.
Encierro means “the enclosing” – approximately half a mile or 825 metres of an old cobbled street in Pamplona is “enclosed” or barricaded as a running path for the event. The course finishes at the Plaza de Toros (bullring stadium), where the bulls are ushered into the stadium where the bullfighting event will take place in the afternoon.
When it comes to a typical vacation or tourist activity, the Running of the Bulls is probably not the safest choice, but it certainly is exhilarating and certainly one of a kind.
Don’t forget your newspaper!