As one of Spain's most historic cities, Pamplona has captured the imagination of many a visitor to Spain. The capital city of the region of Navarre, Pamplona is traditionally also seen as the capital of the Basque country and is thus a special place of interest for Basque nationalists. Steeped in ancient heritage, perhaps the most famous event in Pamplona's annual calendar is the San Fermin festival - an event during which the running of the bulls is the main attraction for visitors from around the world.
Celebrated every July, San Fermin has its roots in the medieval period as both a commercial fair and a secular fiesta. Its famous 'Encierro' - or running of the bulls - originated in the late fourteenth century, and remains the festival's most popular event today. It is said that at Pamplona, Saint Fermin met with his death by being dragged around the streets of the city by bulls - although some say that Saint Fermin was actually martyred at Amiens, France.
As the name suggests, ‘Encierro’ involves people running in front of bulls down a 825 metre stretch of cobbled streets in the older parts of Pamplona town. On the festival’s largest day, July 7th, the effigy of Saint Fermin is accompanied by thousands of festival participants, as dancers and entertainers gather along the streets. ‘Encierro’ itself begins with the release of two firecrackers - one to signal the freeing of the bulls from their corral and another once the last bull has been released.
The dangers posed by the running of the bulls are well-known. Since 1924, 15 people have been killed and over 200 have been seriously injured. However, many of these injuries have been due to inexperienced tourists taking dangerous risks when participating in the ‘Encierro’. But despite these dangers, the atmosphere in Pamplona during San Fermin is overwhelmingly celebratory. In literature, the mood of San Fermin has perhaps best been captured by the American writer Ernest Hemingway, who immortalised the festival in his novel ‘The Sun Also Rises’. In commemoration, Hemingway had a street in Pamplona named after him - Avenida de Hemingway - in order to show the city's appreciation for this great author.
Pamplona is just over two hours journey away from the city of Bilbao, so if you're thinking about travelling to Pamplona for the festival of San Fermin, you'll find frequent flights to Bilbao from London. Just make sure that your behaviour is responsible and careful in order to reduce the risk of being in the firing line during the running of the bulls.
About the Author - Andrew Regan is an online, freelance journalist.