Spain: San Fermin Festival
The annual Running of the Bulls festival of Pamplona in Navarra region of Spain finished today with 4 injuries. This makes yesterday, July 13th, with 23 injuries the bloodiest day of this year’s festival.
You may love it or hate it, but nevertheless Running of the Bulls is a fascinating event where humans’ intelligence (or lack of it, some will argue) and physical ability meet the power and wildness of mighty bulls in a 825 meters race that is defined by fear and excitement of the unknown ending. In this race anything is possible, injury, death and for those who survive the race delightfulness and satisfaction of having finished the race in good shape. Running of the Bulls is the closest modern man can get to the life of his prehistoric ancestors, where man had to be quick, clever, and posses good physical fitness to be able to hunt animals and not to be hunted by other animals. Though, today the killing of the animal is left to ‘El Matador’.
The San Fermin festival where ‘El Encierro’ or the Running of the Bulls is a part of it brings more than 2 millions of spectators from around the world to Pamplona every year from the 7th to the 14th of July. The fiestas of San Fermin as it is called in Spain are celebrated in honour of San Fermin, patron saint of Navarra.
‘El Encierro’ was born out of need: getting the bulls from outside the city into the bullring.
The running of the bulls starts at the corral in Calle Santo Domingo when the clock on the church of San Cernin strikes eight o”clock in the morning. After the launching of two rockets, the bulls charge behind the runners for 825 metres, the distance between the corral and the bullring. The run usually lasts between three and four minutes although it has sometimes taken over ten minutes, especially if one of the bulls has been isolated from his companions.
Chants to San Fermin
The bull run has a particularly emotional prelude. It is when the runners, just a few metres up the slope from the corral where the bulls are waiting, raise their rolled newspapers and chant to an image of San Fermin placed in a small recess in the wall in the Cuesta de Santo Domingo. Against the strongest of silences, the following words can be heard: “A San Fermin pedimos, por ser nuestro patron, nos guie en el encierro dandonos su bendicion.” (We ask San Fermin, being our patron saint, to guide us in the bull run and give us his blessing). When they finish they shout “Viva San Fermin!, Gora San Fermin.” This chant is sung three times before 8am first, then when there are five minutes to go before 8am, then three minutes and one minute before the gate of the corral is opened.
Rockets in the bullring
The third rocket, fired from the bullring, signals that all the bulls have entered the bullring. A fourth and final rocket indicates that all the bulls are safely in the corral located inside the bullring, and that the bull run has ended.
The role of the pastores
A large number of pastores (bull “shepherds”) cover the entire bull run. They place themselves behind the bulls, with their only protection being a long stick. Their main role is to stop the odd idiot from inciting the bulls from behind, to avoid the bulls turning round and running backwards, and to help any bulls that have stopped or have been separated from their companions to continue running towards the bullring.
Other key people in the bull run are the dobladores, people with good bullfighting knowledge (sometimes ex-bullfighters) who take up position in the bullring with capes to help the runners “fan out” (in other words, run to the sides after they enter the bullring) and “drag” the bulls towards the corral as quickly as possible.
The two groups of mansos (bullocks)
The six fighting bulls that will take part in the evening bullfight start the run accompanied by an initial group of mansos, which act as “guides” to help the bulls cover the route. Two minutes after leaving the corral in Santo Domingo, a second group of bullocks (the so-called “sweep-up” group), which are slower and smaller than the first one, are let out to lead any bulls that might have stopped or been left behind in the bull run towards the bullring.
What is not allowed in the bull run
- People under 18 years of age, who must not run or participate.
- Crossing police barriers placed to ensure that the run goes off smoothly.
- Standing in areas and places along the route that have been expressly prohibited by the municipal police force.
- Before the bulls are released, waiting in corners, blind spots, doorways or in entrances to other establishments located along the run.
- Leaving doors of shops or entrances to apartments open along the route. The responsibility for ensuring these doors are closed lies with the owners or tenants of the properties.
- Being in the bull run while drunk, under the effects of drugs or in any other improper manner.
- Carrying objects that are unsuitable for the run to take place correctly.
- Wearing inappropriate clothes or footwear for the run.
- Inciting the bulls or attracting their attention in any manner, and for whatever reason, along the route of the run or in the bullring.
- Running backwards towards the bulls or running behind them.
- Holding, harassing or maltreating the bulls and stopping them from moving or being led to the pens in the bullring.
- Stopping along the run and staying on the fence, barriers or in doorways in such a way that the run or the safety of other runners is jeopardised.
- Taking photographs inside the run, or from the fences or barriers without due authorisation.
- Carrying objects that are unsuitable for the good order and security of the bull run.
- Installing elements that invade horizontal, vertical or aerial space along the bull run, unless expressly authorised by the Mayor”s Office.
- Any other action that could hamper the bull run taking place normally.
With contribution from Bullrun Pamplona