Why people in Spain run from bulls: the history of the San Fermin holiday in Pamplona

Every year in the middle of summer, videos and photos from the San Fermin Festival, which takes place in the Spanish city of Pamplona, in the province of Navarre, appear on the network and on television. The festival lasts a week, from July 6 to 14, and is full of all kinds of events – carnivals, performances, sports competitions and concerts. But the maximum interest is not caused by them, but by "encierro" - street races with angry bulls. How did this dangerous custom appear and what does it mean?

Why people in Spain run from bulls: the history of the San Fermin holiday in Pamplona

Everyone can participate in the bull race, both residents of Pamplona and guests of the city. But there are also some rules that are not recommended to be ignored. First, the participants must be of legal age, absolutely healthy and, preferably, sober. Secondly, participants are allowed to hold only a rolled-up newspaper in their hands, which can distract the bull. Touching the bull with your hands or teasing is also prohibited, but who cares?

Why people in Spain run from bulls: the history of the San Fermin holiday in Pamplona

Accidents with serious injuries occur every year at the festival, and sometimes there are also deaths. At the same time, the locals are philosophical about this and believe that only a person who is not physically prepared, a fool or drunk can die. Hundreds of thousands of guests from all over the world come to Pamplona for San Fermin and leave millions of dollars in the city. But this was not always the case, and the entertainment festival for local daredevils and tourists was once a serious religious holiday.

Why people in Spain run from bulls: the history of the San Fermin holiday in Pamplona

The holiday is dedicated to Saint Fermin – San Fermin) - a bishop who lived in the 13th century and saved the inhabitants of Pamplona from the plague epidemic. Once everything was limited to processions, hymns and divine services, but gradually the religious holiday turned into a completely secular one and began to be accompanied by mass festivities, drinking parties and fireworks.

Why people in Spain run from bulls: the history of the San Fermin holiday in Pamplona

Today, the holiday begins at noon on July 6 with the launch of a signal rocket from the balcony of the Pamplona City Hall. By this time, the main square of the city is filled with citizens in the national Basque clothes – white trousers and shirts, belted with scarlet sashes. The councillor of the municipality proclaims "Glory to Saint Fermin!" in Spanish and Basque, and the holiday begins. The people gathered on the square begin to congratulate each other and pour champagne over themselves.

Why people in Spain run from bulls: the history of the San Fermin holiday in Pamplona

On the first day, concerts and performances, performances of musical ensembles playing folk instruments, mask parades and fireworks are held throughout Pamplona. All this time, guests continue to arrive in the city and by the evening there are not enough places in hotels. In this regard, many tourists and Spaniards from other cities stay to sleep right under the open sky.

Why people in Spain run from bulls: the history of the San Fermin holiday in Pamplona

The next day, July 7, a solemn procession with the statue of San Fermin passes through the city and a solemn church mass is served. Then the city, as before, plunges into the whirlpool of festive bustle. All these events are undoubtedly very interesting, but most of the guests of Pamplona do not come here for them. They are interested in an extreme race with bulls through the streets of the ancient city, which is called " encierro "(from the word"locked").

Why people in Spain run from bulls: the history of the San Fermin holiday in Pamplona

Every festive morning, the city is woken up at 6.30 by noisy orchestras. And at 8.00, the bulls brought for the traditional bullfight are released from special pens installed in one of the districts of the city. Centuries ago, it was an ordinary driving of a herd of bulls to the bullring, but now this deadly and incredibly exciting show is not for the faint of heart.

Why people in Spain run from bulls: the history of the San Fermin holiday in Pamplona

The bulls run along a certain route, limited by massive wooden shields. And in front of them, brave citizens and tourists are running, who decided to challenge fate and aggressive animals. It should be especially said that the Spanish bull, bred for bullfighting, is completely different from ordinary bulls. For centuries, breeders have been selecting the most vicious and powerful animals to get an incredibly dangerous breed for fighting.

Why people in Spain run from bulls: the history of the San Fermin holiday in Pamplona

Most often, the victims of bulls are tourists who have no experience of running with bulls, do not know the streets of the city and, alas, are often drunk. The authorities of Pamplona have repeatedly tried to ban dangerous fun, since the Middle Ages, but the tradition turned out to be stronger. In 1867, the municipality was forced to accept and recognize the running with the bulls as an integral part of the San Fermin holiday. Now all races are held at the risk of participants and claims from victims are not accepted.

Why people in Spain run from bulls: the history of the San Fermin holiday in Pamplona

Despite the rules introduced, no holiday is complete without victims. The most unlucky year for Pamplona was 1924 – then the bulls killed 13 people and maimed 200 more. But, despite the danger of the event, there are always plenty of people who want to participate in it. There is even a special category of runners, which the locals call "aficionado" - a sick encierro. This means that a person was injured by a bull, but again returned to the race route to prove something to himself and others.

Why people in Spain run from bulls: the history of the San Fermin holiday in Pamplona

At the end of the race, the bulls are waiting for the arena, where they are driven into corrals-corrals for cattle. In the evening, at 18.30, these bulls will become participants of an equally cruel performance – a Spanish bullfight. This time, the animals will be confronted not just by brave daredevils, but by professional torreros. The bullfight lasts for several hours and most of the bulls die in it.

Why people in Spain run from bulls: the history of the San Fermin holiday in Pamplona

The next day, at exactly 8.00, everything repeats again, and again the bulls, already new, run through Pamplona to the arena along a route of 850 meters long and again the brave guys rush ahead of them with shouts. And so every day of the holiday. Everything ends on the evening of July 14 with a solemn mass in the main cathedral of Pamplona, after which a crowd of thousands in the square and the streets adjacent to it sings the ancient hymn of the end of the festival: "Poor me, poor me! The holiday of San Fermin is over!"

Why people in Spain run from bulls: the history of the San Fermin holiday in Pamplona

It can be said that the traditional bull run in Pamplona is nothing more than a routine job of driving a herd of bulls from the entrance to the city to the bullfighting arena turned into an exciting attraction for the brave. Would it have been better if the fighting bulls were slowly driven through the streets by sleepy shepherds with twigs?

Keywords: Encierro | Bulls | Spain | Race | Pamplona | San fermin

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