When Americans think of Spain, what comes to mind? Without a doubt one of the first things to do so is the Running of the Bulls. Known in Spanish as San Fermín (or also by the plural Sanfermines) this festival takes place every year in the month of July in Pamplona, the capital city of Navarre, in the north of Spain. Originally just a local celebration, it was Ernest Hemingway who popularized San Fermín by including it in his novel The Sun Also Rises.
Nowadays the festival is known all throughout the world, especially so by Americans, who travel to Spain en masse every summer to take part in the festivities. What makes it so special? Well, it’s not every week of the year when festival-goers have the chance to test their wits by running in front of two-thousand-pound beasts. Sound a bit crazy? Well, don’t forget that ‘Spain is different.’
Pamplona, San Fermín´s cradle
The city of Pamplona is credited as being founded by the Roman general Pompey the Great in 75 B.C. Later, in the 3rd century AD, Saint Honestus was sent by Saint Saturninof Amiens, the bishop of Toulouse, to evangelize the city. Legend has it that St. Honestus was successful in converting Senator Firmus and his family to Christianity, including the senator’s son Fermin, who would later become the first Bishop of Pamplona and the patron saint of Navarre, along with Saint Francis Xavier. It is this tradition that gave birth to the Sanfermines, although many argue that there is no historical evidence on which to base the story, particularly since there is no documented reference of Saint Fermin until the 12th century. Regardless of whether the alleged historical account is true or not, the festival is here to stay and is bigger and better than ever.
Nine days party
The 2014 festivities of San Fermín consist of nine days of different events, which were set into motion this past Sunday by what is known as the chupinazo. This term refers to fireworks that are launched from the balcony of City Hall, which are always lit by a city official or other important figure to mark the beginning of the week. This year the honor was given to Mikel Martínez, president of the Navarrese Red Cross. From there the celebration begun, leading to the different events of the week, which include the Riau-Riau, processions, bullfighting, and none other than the Encierro, or Running of the Bulls.
Ever since Hemingway documented the Sanfermines in his writings, Americans have been fascinated by this peculiar festival. For eight days, from the 7th of July until the 14th, an Encierro is celebrated daily, during which the bulls are released to run through the city center, ending in the plaza de toros, or bullring. Anyone who is interested in running may do so, although there are some rules regarding participation. Perhaps the most stringent requirement is that runners must enter the area no later than 7:30am, since the bulls are released at 8am daily. To signal the beginning of the Encierro, a flare is set of, and once all the bulls have entered the circuit, another is set of so that runners are aware that the bulls are on their way. The first part of the Encierro is especially dangerous because the bulls start off very quickly out of the gate, as well as the last part because the entrance to the bullring leaves nowhere to escape to if there is a problem. This year’s edition of the festival has seen five gorings, with only one day being incident-free thus far. There are still four days left, so we have yet to see what the future holds.
After eight days of intense partying and taurine entertainment, the celebration officially ends with Pobre de mí, a song sung in lament of the end of San Fermín in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. Another song in the repertoire is Ya falta menos, which highlights the fact that with each passing moment the next year’s edition of the festival is even closer.