The Running of the Bulls: The Origins
Every summer, thousands of people gather in one of the most special cities in Spain for celebrating the traditional Running of the Bulls Festival. We’re sure you have heard about it and the town that hosts this amazing festival, that is Pamplona, capital city of the region of Navarre. This festival is made to honor Saint Fermin of Amiens, and its most characteristic feature is, El Encierro, world wide known as the Bull Run or Running of the Bulls. The festival starts at 12:00 on 6 July with the traditional “chupinazo”(opening ceremony), and from 7 to 14 July, every morning at 8:00 thousands of brave people run in front of 6 fierce and 6 meek bulls for around 3 minutes to cover a distance of nearly 875 meters or 0,6 miles. We all know something about this worldwide famous festival, but what are its origins? If you want to widen your knowledge about this ancestral tradition, keep on reading so you can go there and know everything about it.
First of all, we have to take a look to the figure of Saint Fermin. He is the patron saint of this unique Spanish festival and was the first bishop of Amiens (France). According to the legend, Fermin was born in Pamplona in the year 272 and died in 303 in Amiens. He was killed in prison because of the he refused to stop predicting the Christian faith at a time when it faced great opposition. It is said that a relic from his head was taken to Pamplona by the bishop Peter of Paris in 1186. This fact helped to spread the legend of Fermin, who was honored with patronal feasts afterwards.
Back in the Middle Ages, during the 13th century, Pamplona hosted commercial fairs and religious celebrations taking place at the end of the month of June to honor Saint Peter. There, a great deal of farmers, merchants and locals gathered to have fun and make some businesses. With this pretext, they started organizing bullfights as part of the tradition. By that time, there were other commercial local fairs taking place in October, lasting for seven days. Eventually, it was decided to unite both festivities into a single one, blending the religious spirit from the October feast with the commercial activities from the June feasts. The dates for this new festival to be hosted were between 6 and 14 July. This was done with the purpose of making the most of summertime because Pamplona is located in the north of Spain and winter and fall dates are really cold, so the Running of the Bulls Festival started to be celebrated on these dates in 1592.
Apart from that, we also have to talk about the origin of the Running of the Bulls. The “encierro” or bull run have been an evolution of the way shepherds took the bulls to the bullring. Fences were put around all along the path in the town during the 18th century, and little by little, people started to run around the bulls to accompany them towards the bullring. It is said that some of the first ones to do that were the butchers in the city. This became a tradition and nowadays this is one of most recognized feasts in the world, always linked with the whole set of activities to be performed during the week. One of its most characteristic features is the outfit dunking the festival. The traditional clothing consist on white shirt and trousers and red scarf and sash.
The festival remained for centuries with a similar programme which included the honoring of Saint Fermín, the enhancing of businesses and the celebration of the traditional bullfights in the bull ring of Pamplona. Nowadays and to keep tradition alive, San Fermin also includes the celebration of the cattle fair, which is still one of the most important in the country, which is held at the outskirts of the city and there you can buy all kind of cattle, with the dominance of horses. This fair, together with the processions and the encierros are the most traditional part of the festival. It was not until the 1920s that San Fermin festival and its main protagonist, El Encierro (bull run), came to be worldwide famous. The American writer Ernest Hemingway went to experience by himself this genuine party. The festival itself and particularly the Bullfighting made him fall in love with this Spanish amazing patronal feast. What he lived there and how much he liked the Sanfermines was put on paper in his first worldwide successful work The Sun Also Rises (Fiesta in its Spanish version). This made other artists, mainly American, as Arthur Miller or Orson Welles to go to Pamplona to live first hand the festival of Saint Fermin, the Running of the Bulls and the greatest Bullfightings in the world. Everyone who visits Pamplona during the Sanfermines can feel the rich culture of the city and discovers a different way of living how a Patron Saint can be honored. The last decades have witnessed how for one week every summer, Pamplona’s population grows from nearly 200,000 people to around a million during the nine-day festival. Few feasts in the world are capable of attracting such an amazing number of visitors.
Currently, the San Fermin Festival has lost some of the religious component giving the floor to a massive party that can be enjoyed from many perspectives. Nevertheless, ancestral activities are still a fundamental component of the Running of the Bulls Festival for the locals. For example, the city hosts an emotive procession during the 7 July and the ones who run in front of the bulls say their prayers to Saint Fermin asking for protectction. He is also present in the different traditional tunes song through the festival. Finally, children are also protagonists as the Saint Fermin sculpture is taken to the streets for kids to bring them flowers. This has been manly provoked by the evolution of society and the affluence of visitors from every part of the world. American, Chinese, Australian, French… everyone wants to arrive to Pamplona to live this fantastic experience in one of the most beautiful regions of Spain and have the chance of living an unforgettable vacation in Spain.
From our part, we can only invite you to join us to live this wonderful festival, perfect for the whole family as there are activities for people of all ages. If you want to live this outstanding festival, we are here to help you, having the chance to enter private houses with the best views of the festival and the opening ceremony (chupinazo). We will also advise you on where to go for a meal or a drink and we will you in the different guided tours through Pamplona. Tell us the way you want to enjoy it and we will set everything ready for you to have an amazing time in our hometown.