First, be sure to read about Day 1 of the San Fermín Festival and the sangria-soaked Opening Ceremony leading up to the Running of the Bulls!
The Running of the Bulls, or Encierro, takes place on the morning of the second day of the San Fermín festival. After a long and eventful first day commencing the festival, including the opening ceremonies, the Running of the Bulls comes in a flash.
So why does this festival exist and what does it mean for the Spanish people?
The tradition dates back to the 13th century and the origins of the annual bull runs are actually based on practicality…and not any sort of festival!
Cattle herders who were transporting their animals from the countryside to the city to sell them needed a way to move their animals.
A tradition grew out of this—a narrow path would be cleared in the city center where the spirited animals could run and be corraled together. With the encouragement from bystanders and people shouting from buildings, the herders were able to speed up the process.
Nobody knows for sure when the exact date was, but it started to become a competition for young men to rush alongside the animals and it became a test of bravado.
It’s believed that the San Fermín Festival and the Running of the Bulls naturally merged together over time. The Festival is associated with the city’s co-patron saint, and given the dangers involved, many revelers and participants ask Saint Fermín for guidance and protection.
I attended this festival a number of years ago. While I’m glad I got to experience it and I think it’s important to highlight cultural practices and traditions around the world, it’s not something I support. It’s something I look back on now that I’m older and wouldn’t go to again.
However, one of the goals with The Blonde Abroad is to highlight other cultures, as different as they may be from our own, rather than gloss over things. I think this is the best way to open up a dialogue about the world around us and in turn, promote positive growth.
Many people party through the previous night and come for the run still stained in the sangria celebration from the San Fermín opening ceremonies. The streets are cleaned as best as possible while thousands of people begin to fill the streets and balconies along the route of the run.
I got an early start at 6:30 am on the morning of July 7th to get to our balcony on Estafeta Street (the longest stretch along the route of the run). Three of my guy friends were going to be running but I decided against it. Traditionally, women do not run the race. For my own safety, and out of respect for the culture, I decided that a bird’s eye view would be more than satisfactory.
The anticipation leading to the race at 8 am was incredible. I was so nervous! I only had stories that I had heard to fuel my expectations and, quite literally, anything could happen. Nobody has died in many years but the possibility of injury is highly likely. People fall, get pushed and can be gored by the bulls. I couldn’t even imagine what the runners were feeling as they stood down below waiting for the sound of the firecracker.
The sound of a shot rang through the air and we watched from the balconies waiting for the massive animals to come charging around the corner. Thousands of people began to run and soon I noticed the beginning of a group literally running for their lives. The bulls were just beyond them.
A group of 6 bulls came charging around the corner surrounded by people either avoiding the bulls or attempting to run alongside them close enough to touch their horns.
My stomach was in knots as the wave of red, white and bull sped through the street below.
It was over in seconds as the crowd continued on towards the final destination, the Plaza de Toros. After the bulls passed, we turned to the television for news to see if anything was reported. Luckily, everything went smoothly and there were no tragedies. The festival would continue for 8 days including 7 more Running of the Bulls, 7 more fireworks shows and countless other celebrations.
The whole event seems surreal in hindsight but I’m so glad I went. I got the opportunity to be a part of a cultural experience that has been passed on for hundreds of years. While the chaos of the small streets filled with thousands of (mostly drunk) people can be overwhelming, I only stayed for the first two days. I got a taste for the San Fermín Festival and was able to leave without feeling like it was too much of a good thing.
¡Viva San Fermín! ¡Gora San Fermín!
Other blogger’s experiences of the Running of the Bulls:
Planet D: A Quick Run with the Bulls
Girl’s Running with Bulls: Running Tips for Beginners at San Fermín
Go, See, Write: Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain