San FermínThe festival of San Fermin is deeply rooted celebration held annually from 6 July to 14 July in the city of Pamplona in north-eastern Spain. While its most notorious event is "the running of the bulls" (the encierro), the weeklong celebration involves numerous other traditional and folkloric events.
The festival's origins are not clear: it is thought to have originated as a commemoration of the death of Saint Fermin, who was martyred by being dragged through the streets of Pamplona by bulls. There are 13th century and 14th century texts referring to the event: up to the 15th century, the festival was held in October but was moved to July to avoid unpredictable weather.
The Encierro involves running in front of bulls down an 825-metre stretch of cobbled streets of a section of the old town of Pamplona.
Each morning's event starts at 8 A.M. Competitors are clad in white, with a red handkerchief tied about their necks. The racers gather in an area beneath a church, where they sing an ode to Saint Fermin. The lyrics are:
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 firecracker announces the release of the bulls from their corral, and a second firecracker advises that the last bull has left the corral.
The event is dangerous. Since 1924, 14 people have been killed (the most recent, a 22-year-old American in 1995), and 200 have been injured. Most injuries nowadays, however, are caused by the stampede of participants seeking to run from the powerful bulls.
It must be said that in more recent years, beginning with the publication of Ernest Hemingway's novel in 1926 about the event called The Sun Also Rises, a large percentage of runners are tourists. Tourists have made the event much more dangerous due to them lacking the understanding and skill needed to run safely in the Encierro.
The shops and residences along the course are boarded up to prevent damage by either bull or human during the race. One particular stretch of the course, called Mercaderes, is particularly notorious for injuries: on rainy days the bulls cannot turn well on the cobblestones, and often collide into the wall; Tear marks from the sharpened horns against the pulp wood barriers give an indication as to the events of days before. While locals are always keen to avoid this corner, it is not uncommon to see tourists getting trampled and serioulsy injured in this corner.
The course concludes at Pamaplona's Plaza de Toros (bullfighting stadium), and the bulls are herded inside the Corralillos to be bullfighted in the afternoon's Corrida.
The participants of the Encierro are left in the stadium, and smaller bulls (with wrapped horns) are released into the arena and toss the participants, to the general amusement of the crowd. Once all of the bulls have entered the stadium a third rocket is released while a fourth firecracker indicates that the bulls are in their bullpens and the run has concluded.
Stray bulls become extremely agitated (they are herd animals who do not like to be separated from the pack), and so the organisers arrange for a "second wave" of calmer and older Steers to run through the streets after the "first wave" to collect any stragglers.
The organisers release multi-lingual guides (with safety tips) to running the event: it is strongly recommended that this be read beforehand.
At night, the town erupts into an enormous party, and the thousands of tourists find themselves asleep in parks. The Comparsa de Gigantes (Company of Giants) parade the streets—enormous puppets accompanied by brass bands. The streets are filled with drunken revellers. The city hall is offered by the town as a storage facility for backpackers' gear.