San Fermin Festival
The most famous and infamous festival in Spain is probably the San Fermin festival of Pamplona (Sanfermines). Named after Pamplona’s first bishop and patron saint, the festival begins at noon on July 6 and ends July 14 at midnight. The festival annually attracts over a million visitors from all over the world. The most prominent part is the controversial and dangerous bull run. In addition to the running of the bulls, however, many other traditional activities and festivities take place.
Chupinazo, the opening of the San Fermin festival
The chupinazo (traditional fireworks) of Pamplona is one of the wildest in Spain. On the morning of July 6, the start of the San Fermin festival, tens of thousands of people with traditional red handkerchiefs (Pañuelos Rojos) gathers in the main square. At exactly noon, a firework arrow is lit from the balcony of the town hall, and the crowd shouts “Viva San Fermín!”. After this, you pour each other with wine and water. The group, often well drunk and excited, will continue partying for the rest of the day and night. An unofficial tradition is that women go topless on this first night, adding to the wild reputation of opening party. Who gets the great honour of setting off the fireworks arrow determines the mayor.
The San Fermín procession takes place on the morning of July 7. During this age-old tradition, the 15th-century statue of San Fermín is carried through the old town of Pamplona. In addition to thousands of porters, dancers, street entertainers and political figures will join. During the procession, a traditional dance (a Jota) is performed for the saint, a rose is sacrificed in the well of San Fermín, and the Gigantes (huge dolls of wood and paper-mâché in which people sit) dance while the cathedral reads.
The running of the bulls
After the opening day, the infamous bull-running (encierro) takes place every morning. At 8 am, a firecracker announces the start of the race and releases six fighting bulls and six oxen from their enclosure. Hundreds of people gather before the beginning of the route and cast a spell at the statue of San Fermin three times to ask the saint for protection.
The riders are traditionally dressed in white clothing with a red handkerchief. When a second firecracker goes off, the bulls have left their enclosure. The participants, especially young men, try to stay ahead of the bulls on a track of 848 meters long. The trail goes through the narrow streets of Pamplona and ends in the bullring. On average it takes about 3 minutes before all bulls are in the arena.
In the Arena
When the last bull enters the arena, a rocket is launched. When another firecracker sounds, the bulls are locked, and the competition is over. After this, young bulls with wrapped horns are released into the arena to chase the riders for the entertainment of the audience. The bulls remain in the arena until 6 pm, after which they are used in traditional bullfights. No bull survives the fighting.
Because the fighting bulls are supplied daily by another breeder, they can differ significantly in weight and degree of danger, which makes them unpredictable. Also, it is a tradition to just stay ahead of the bulls instead of running far ahead of them. Dozens are injured every year while running. Fifteen people have died since 1922.
Every morning after the bull run, the Gigantes walk through the city. The eight Gigantes were built in 1860 and represent four royal pairs, each of a different breed. During the procession, the 4 meter high dolls dance to traditional music. In addition to the Gigantes, there are 17 smaller Cabezudos that interact more with the audience.
In addition to the activities described above, daily food festivals, fireworks shows, street theatre and demonstrations of traditional Basque sports and dancing take place.
Pobre de mí, the end
On July 14 at midnight, the crowd will gather again in the main square to sing the traditional “Pobre de mí” together. During the song, participants light a candle and remove their red handkerchief. After this, the mayor ends the festival, and a final fireworks show takes place.