For seven days in July, the Spanish town of Pamplona goes absolutely wild for the festival of San Fermin; otherwise known as the infamous Running of the Bulls.
Lying within the rolling green hills of the Basque countryside in Northern Spain is Pamplona. The sleepy capital of the Navarra region explodes from a modest population of 180,000 to over 500,000 during Spain’s most notorious festival, San Fermin; more affectionately known as The Running of the Bulls.
Ernest and Ferminus
The festival in this fortress town first gained notoriety in Ernest Hemingway’s novel ‘The Sun Also Rises’. Following his famous account of the bull runs, San Fermin has been a magnet for young revellers from around the world, eager to put prove their bravery in against the bovine rampage.
Bullfights and sangria aside, San Fermin is a celebration in honour of Saint Ferminus, one of the town’s patron saints. Each year from July 6th – July 14th the town transforms into a playground for locals and foreigners alike, where litres upon litres of sangria, cava (Spanish champagne), and cerveza (beer) are consumed.
The cannon and scarves
At midday on July 6th, the opening ceremony is held in the main square of Pamplona, ‘Plaza de Castillo’, where the Pamplonés dress in white outfits and waving red bandanas over their heads.
White is probably not the best colour to be wearing when the ceremony involves showering everyone around you with champagne, sangria and eggs. Following the firing of a cannon, revellers tie the red bandanas around their necks, signifying the festival has officially begun.
Run for your life!
The highlight of the event is the Encierro. Translated to English, encierro means ‘enclosure’, or ‘shutting in’ and refers to the streets being enclosed for the running of the bulls.
Traditionally, the Encierro began at 7am to coincide with the 7th day of the 7th month for a 7 day fiesta. These days it commences around 8am, marked by the roar of a cannon.
Six feisty toros are released from the Parque de Santo Domingo and sent charging after the brave (read: crazy/stupid) participants. The course runs through the Plaza Consistorial, along the Calle de Estefeta finishing at the Plaza del Toros.
The best vantage point is from Parque de Santo Domingo. People start finding places along the track from 5am, so if you don’t want to miss the action, you need to be there early. Alternatively, you can just stay out all night and walk there straight from the bars to a spot track-side.
There is an ‘art’ involved in the running. It might seem simple but by watching the local pros you will see there is definitely a skill involved, if you’ve got the nerve.
In addition to the Encierro, bullfights are held nightly at 6:30pm.
Cava-ing it up
The fiesta is likely to provide the best street parties you’ll ever attend, with revellers drinking throughout the day and night. Twenty-four hours of sun, sangria and fun – but don’t forget to siesta or you won’t last the distance.
The bar that seems to attract the most foreign visitors is La Mejillonera (the Mussel bar). For 51 weeks of the year, this is a tranquil bar situated in a small Basque square with the tall St. Cecilia statue as the centrepiece. Then comes San Fermin week, when the square transforms into a mosh pit full of wild revellers!
The festival of San Fermin finishes at midnight on the 14th July, marked by a gathering in the Plaza de Castillo with candles and Basque songs.
And just remember – anything and everything is possible at the Fiesta de San Fermin!