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San Fermin


8th July 2014

Emily Robertshaw


Last Sunday, thousands gathered in the centre of Pamplona – the capital city of Navarre in Spain – to witness the launch of the infamous Chupinazo rocket, which marks the beginning of San Fermin. The annual celebration, nicknamed the Running of the Bulls, is not one for the faint-hearted. The festival, which brings together the celebration of religion and the traditional sport of bullfighting, can be traced back to the 13th Century and had its first official celebration in 1591, lasting two days. Gradually the festival has become increasingly popular, extending year by year, and now takes places over 9 days, lasting from 6th-14th July. 

Each day of the festival everyone gathers around the statue of San Fermin accompanied by music, dancing, circus acts, parades – including the renowned Parade of the Giants and Big Heads, street theatre and religious processions. The main procession takes place on the second day, whereby a rose is offered in the Pocico de Saint Cernin, a small well belonging to the San Cernin Church. The event that is best known, of course, is el encierro, the running of the bulls, which takes place every morning of the festival at 8am. All brave participants dress in white t-shirts with red sashes and gather at 7.30am in preparation to run the 825km to the main area where they then participate in a bull fight. It’s a tense, exciting but controversial event that makes the crowds roar.

Here’s an inside story from one of the team’s family members who ran with the bulls in 2012:

“There were 12 bulls running in total, reaching speeds of of about 18 mph. The noise of their hooves on the concrete is like something you wouldn’t believe. The prize for reaching the arena unscathed was to be greeted by 20k screaming fans. I managed to time my run perfectly as I arrived into the arena between a set of bulls, but I was worried because I hadn’t seen my friend. I didn’t know if he’d made it, or had been hurt. 

We had arranged to meet in a section of the arena, so I waited with anticipation. I finally bumped into him and thankfully he’d also made it with no real issues. This was just the beginning.

Once you’re in the arena a small bull is released with his horns corked. Your aim is to stay in the arena as long as you can and if you jump out, you can’t return. You have to have a strategy before you race, and the adrenaline rush is amazing.

It seemed we were lucky and came out with no serious injuries. Others weren’t so lucky as I witnessed somebody get hurt about 6 foot away – it turned out he’d broken his back.

Despite seeing the severe consquences, we decided to hedge our bets and also run the following day. It was completely different as we knew what to expect, so planned our run more carefully. All in all an amazing experience!”

The festival will end on 14th July with a stunning candlelit ceremony, known as Pobre de mí, where crowds will gather in the main square and sing “Pobre de Mí, Pobre de Mí, que se han acabado las fiestas, de San Fermín”, which translates as “Poor me, poor me, for the fiesta of San Fermín has come to a close”.


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