Running of Bulls Helps Kick Off Pamplona Festival

Jennifer Vernon
for National Geographic News
Updated July 9, 2004

The northern Spanish city of Pamplona has kicked off its annual nine-day festival. The celebration—which honors the city's patron saint, San Fermín—includes fireworks, parades, music, dances, bullfights, and religious ceremonies.

What first draws most foreign visitors to the festival, however, is a brief daily spectacle known as the running of the bulls, which began earlier this week.

A long-standing tradition among Pamplona residents, the event achieved international notice thanks to Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises.

"He took a small town festival and really immortalized it in his words so well and so eloquently … that it became romantic," said Hilary Hemingway, an author, documentary filmmaker, and niece of the famous writer.

For Pamplona's earliest residents, running the bulls started out as something quite practical: It was simply an efficient way to move the animals through town to sell at market.

Lucinda Poole, a journalist and 24-year Pamplona resident, said town lore attributes the practice of running with the bulls to 13th-century butchers who hurried slightly ahead of the bulls to be well placed to buy the bulls for slaughter.

Running with the bulls began to grow in popularity, despite efforts to stop it. By the late 1800s, it had become a well-established tradition.

Three-Minute Run

During the modern festival, the running of the bulls starts at 8:00 a.m. each morning. (The spectacle began this past Wednesday, the Catholic feast day for San Fermín.) Six bulls selected from Spain's top breeding ranches run in the daily event, called an encierro.

The bulls' route winds half a mile (0.8 kilometer) through town from an enclosure on Santo Domingo Street to the city's bullring, where each bull fights a matador in the afternoon.

The average encierro lasts a mere three minutes.

Continued on Next Page >>


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