San Fermin Festival in Pamplona

San Fermin Festival in Pamplona

Bull chasing people in the streets of Pamplona

San Fermín is an annual week-long festival taking place 6-14 July in Pamplona. The history of bull chasing goes back to the fourteenth century and since 1592 has been in the same form every year. I travel half of Spain for a nearly twenty-four hour adventure in Pamplona.

During San Fermín week the whole town turns into a massive feast. The streets of Pamplona are completely filled with enthusiastic mass of people in red and white. The singing, shouting, dancing and spilling sangria everywhere around are essential parts of this lively tradition.

The bull chasing over the years has became pretty big. However, its core remains the same. Disguised festival participants are dressed in traditional white shirts with pañuelo rojo, which is a red scarf worn around her neck. The event lasts continuously throughout the week.

Our bus arrives at around two o’clock at night. After a while we manage to find our Mexican and Argentinean friends. The whole night we stroll the streets drinking sangria, meeting new people and getting more into fiesta. It is hard to tell if we’re still on the street or perhaps already in the middle. Alejandro was right, sangria will be spilled all over all night long at everyone!

Sangria makes the time pass more pleasantly until the morning chase

Eight in the morning sharp on the Cuesta de Santo Domingo the chase starts. After a while there is a crowd people stampeding forward. The most vulnerable for an injury are those running at the very end. A herd of rushing bulls is treading hard on their heels. Any person who comes out alive after being hit with horns is said to have been shielded with a mantle of San Fermin, the feast patron.

The tradition can be both safe and dangerous. Since 1924 there have been 15 fatal accidents and over 200 people were seriously injured.

Encierro (in Spanish, a bull chase) leads through the old cobbled streets of Pamplona and has exactly 825 meters. After making the distance all participants run into the Pamplona Plaza de Toros, where the official part of the course ends. Bulls would stay until afternoon corrida takes place.

Some adrenalin seekers still tease the bulls in arena. This part is particularly interesting. Highliths seen on TV after a sleepless night while sipping morning coffee at a Pamplona cafe give the impression of an adequate mix of abstraction, wild bravado and stupidity. It’s bloody and still alive tradition. San Fermin is on the winning position particularly compared to the other once cultivated traditions nowadays dissapearing. Every year it is gaining more popularity.

After the spectacle we sit in a nearby bar. Despite a sleepless night, more jugs of sangria keep on being served to our big table. That is the taste of San Fermin festival. My today’s feelings are surprisingly close to the emotions of Ernest Hemingway, who visited San Fermin in the interwar period and the memories he put in his novel "The sun also rises".

July 2008