Festivals - Fiesta of San Fermín

The Running of the Bulls is part of the Fiesta de San Fermin in Pamplona. © Michelle Chaplow
The Running of the Bulls is part of the Fiesta de San Fermin in Pamplona.

The Running of the Bulls

Few events held in Spain hold international attention like the encierro or “The Running of the Bulls” during the Fiesta of San Fermín. Although it occurs a good distance away from Andalucia, many Andalucians make the yearly pilgrimage to the festivities as do Spaniards from other communidades as well. Many of the bulls used in the encierro and the subsequent bullfights are bred in Andalucia as well. San Fermín has become a national (if not international) celebration.



The Running of the Bulls was first made famous by the American writer Ernest Hemingway when he wrote about it in his novel The Sun Also Rises in 1926. However, the encierro is only one part of a yearly ritual that dominates the Basque town of Pamplona every July from the 6th to the 14th inclusively. San Fermín turns Pamplona upside-down for a week of drunken revelry.

The Fiesta of San Fermín actually stems from a religious basis although this might be difficult to believe if you choose to experience the all-night parties that characterise the happening. San Fermín is the patron saint of Navarra, the province to which Pamplona belongs. It is now fair to say that as many foreigners make the once-a-year pilgrimage as do Spaniards. The spectacle of the encierro is televised live every morning during the Fiesta and it is often the topic of conversation over a morning coffee.

The festivities begin on the 6th of July at 12:00 noon. Thousands gather in the Plaza de Ayuntamiento (Town Hall Plaza) to await the beginning of the fiesta. The mayor of Pamplona then opens the Fiesta with a short speech followed by the firing of the Txupinazo (rocket). With this noisy signal, the Feria of San Fermín begins for another year. The crowd erupts in glee and the contents of hundreds of bottles of champagne are sprayed over everyone present.

The first encierro happens on the morning of July 7th, promptly at 8am. It consists largely of young men (although women may also run) who run in front of the bulls to lead them from their pen up and into the bull-ring. It usually lasts from two to three minutes - although if there are complications due to loose bulls it can last much longer.


With the first rays of light of the early morning the wooden fencing which lines the route is erected. Then the night-long revellers are gradually cleared from the streets by the local police. The street-cleaners then move in to mop up the accumulated rubbish and dirt caused by the night-long revelry.

All spectators must stay behind the double-fencing along the route. Only first-aid teams can be found in the space between the double fencing. One practical reason for this is that the runners have the space to jump over the fence should they need to. Many runners who gather at the bottom of Santo Domingo, the start of the run, crowd together and sing a homily to the image of San Fermín which is placed in a niche on the wall decorated with the scarves of the peñas.

 The Running of the Bulls. © Michelle Chaplow
The Running of the Bulls.

The song goes like this: "A San Fermín pedimos, por ser nuestro patrón, nos guíe en el encierro dándonos su bendición…" ("We ask San Fermín, as our Patron, to guide us through the Bull Run and give us his blessing"). A rocket goes off at the moment the bulls are let out into the street. A second rocket goes off to let everyone know that all the bulls are now in the street.

As time passed the event became more and more popular and some people began to run in front of the bulls and not behind them, as the drovers do.

It appears that as time goes by, the number of serious situations, injuries, and death also increase. There are no records of anyone dying during the encierro. The first mortality occurred that year when a young man was injured. He died six months later. Between then and now, there have been 14 more people die due to their injuries during the encierro.

One of the most tragic runs took place in 1947, when, on the 10th of July, the same bull, "Semillero", killed two people during the same run. Another "double killing" took place on the 13th of July 1980 when "Antioquio" caught his first victim by the horns at the Town Hall and carried him up to Mercaderes street. Later, in the bull-ring he killed a second person with a mortal stab to the stomach.

It seems clear that these mortalities have begun to increase at the same rate that the "encierro" has become an ever-bigger spectacle for an ever-greater number of people. The same macabre statistics can be seen for the number of injured which continue to increase year by year. By far the largest number are caused by contusions but serious injuries from goring seem to be increasing and some of can be mortal. Only the professionalism of the paramedic service keeps the mortality to a minimum.

By the end of the week-long celebrations the Sanfermines are just about partied out. Hundreds of tons of garbage have been collected in the streets, thousands upon thousands of litres of wine have been drunk and hopefully, none of the revellers have been hurt by the participating in the encierro. The insanity will resume again in another year at 12:00 midday on July 6th.

Pamplona Running of the Bulls - Pamplona - 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th July 2015 - Buy Tickets