The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona

Although the American author Ernest Hemingway made the Running of the Bulls popular across the globe, this Spanish tradition has been celebrated in Pamplona since the Middle Ages.

What is the origin of the Running of the Bulls?

To understand its origin, you have to travel back in time to the Medieval Period. With the arrival of summer, the city of Pamplona would celebrate a fair beginning after the night of San Juan in June.

At the same time, the shepherds from south Navarre would bring their fighting bulls to the Plaza Mayor in Pamplona. The shepherds would bring the bulls would into the city in herds while bystanders helped, screaming and directing the animals with sticks to get them to their corrals.

The Patron Saint of Navarre is Saint Fermín. The people of Pamplona used to hold a celebration on October 10 to honor their saint. However, because of the bad weather during that part of the year, the people of Pamplona requested to change the date, which is how the Running of the Bulls and the celebration of Saint Fermín became one big festival. The festival is celebrated from July 6th-14th.

What are the celebrations like today?

A lot has changed since those days. Technically the celebration of Saint Fermín begins on July 6th at noon with what is known as the “chupinazo.”

But what is a chupinazo? It is the pyrotechnic rocket that is shot from the town hall in Pamplona in front of the thousands of people who come to the capital to celebrate. Everyone wears white with red bandanas and sashes.

This is how the week’s activities begin. In addition to the Running of the Bulls, there are also concerts, parades, dance recitals of the jota Navarra, marionettes and much more. The celebrations continue until July 14 when the people gather again in the capital to sing the Pobre de mí, or Poor Me in English to say farewell to the festival until the next year.

Summary of the Running of the Bulls

The route and format of the Running of the Bulls as we know it today is very similar to how it was in the 19th century. Every morning between July 7th and 14th the running begins at 8:00 a.m. from Santo Domingo as the runners sing “We ask of Saint Fermín, for being our patron, that he guide us in the running and give us his blessing.”

Then the rocket is shot out in Pamplona to announce the beginning of the week of celebrations. The bulls are freed from their corrals and run the 875 meters (a half mile) that separates the slope of Santo Domingo and the Plaza of the Bulls in Pamplona. The bulls usually complete the route in two or three minutes as long as there are no accidents.

It is freeing to participate in the Running of the Bulls, but there are rules and standards for behavior that should be respected to avoid problems with the authorities. You must be older than 18 to run and you cannot participate under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

It is also important that you wear appropriate clothing if you participate, but especially that you wear shoes fit for running. You cannot block the path for the rest of the runners and you cannot stop to take photos. These rules are established to protect all participants.

Why did it become famous?

As mentioned at the beginning, Ernest Hemingway made this festival well known throughout the world.

The American author visited Pamplona from Paris because he was fascinated by the history he had heard about the Running of the Bulls. Having the opportunity to experience the celebration in real life left a mark on Hemingway, and ultimately served as the theme for his first successful novel, The Sun Also Rises.

Hemingway returned to Pamplona eight times, and the people of Pamplona say that he became another part of the festival. The final time that Hemingway visited Pamplona was in 1959, five years after he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Today, there is a sculpture in the Plaza of the Bulls dedicated to Hemingway, someone who truly loved the festival. Also, there is a path in Pamplona named after him. It runs through the places he used to frequent, like the Café Iruña, Txoko bar and the hotel La Perla, all situated in the Plaza of the Castle in Navarre. Many American tourists coming to see the Running of the Bulls also visit these locations.

The celebrations of Saint Fermín are unique and rich with history. Everyone should try to experience them at least once in their lifetime. If you ever decide to go to Pamplona, remember to be stay safe and respect the rules of the city so that everyone can enjoy the celebrations.

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