The History Behind Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls
Did you know that people in Spain think it’s fun to get chased by a group of giant bulls running down the street? It’s true! Every July in the city of Pamplona, Spain there is an eight-day festival commonly referred to as the Running of the Bulls.
The Origins of the Festival
This festival began as a religious gathering in honor of a saint. Saint Fermin was a man who died in battle against the French army back in the year 303. Someone built a cathedral in Pamplona in the place he died and people honored him for the first time in July of 1196.
Local butchers in Pamplona also moved their animals through the city in July. They wore long, white aprons while moving their bulls from one end of town to the big corral about a half mile away. They needed the bulls to run fast to get to the corral, so they would shout and run next to them. The bulls pounded the cobblestones with their hooves, eager to get into the big, guarded enclosure. They ran in groups of six to ten bulls at a time and people came out to see the powerful animals take over the streets.
Soon, people joined the butchers in guiding and running with the bulls. More runners came along to keep the animals moving and soon it was a big event. The people of Pamplona blessed each run by singing a religious song to Saint Fermin three times before the bulls came out.
To run with the bulls, festival-goers wear all-white outfits and a red scarf. The white color shows respect to the original butchers who moved the bulls long before there was a fun festival. It’s also important to wear a red scarf – that’s to help everyone remember Saint Fermin.
It’s traditional to wear a red, cloth belt known as a sash. Though the sash may not honor anyone, it is a custom staple that keeps participants looking stylish in the streets.
How to Run with the Bulls
Pamplona’s running of the bulls takes place each year from July 6-14. Starting on the 7th, a bull running takes place each day at 8 a.m. The runners gather in the streets to get themselves pumped up for the big, fast animals. They sing, dance and climb up onto each other’s shoulders. Some even dive into the crowd and let the people catch them.
A rocket that explodes over the city signaling that it’s time to start running – here come the bulls! The crowd takes off for the corral with twelve giant bulls behind them sprinting at full speed.
The goal is to join the bulls in the street, not to torture or tease them. A lot of runners hold out a rolled-up newspaper to help keep a respectful space between themselves and the nearest bull. No one touches the bulls as they go down the street – as that tends to make the bulls angry.
If people need to stop, they typically jump up onto a barricade on the edge of the street or jump into a doorway.
Kids under 18 can watch, but only adults may actually run with the animals. However, there are lots of fun things for younger visitors to do in Pamplona.
The Festival for Kids
Pamplona’s big party is for everyone. Giant stilt characters walk down the street and give children a friendly bop on the head. Shops sell ice cream and treats all over the city and there are free concerts of every style of music.
In the evenings, the kids get to run with a special fake bull that shoots off fireworks. Are you brave enough to run with a bull full of sparklers?
Why People do This
Pamplona’s big festival is a reminder to live life to the fullest. As we don’t live forever, we need to enjoy ourselves! During these special days, people in Pamplona generally don’t work so they can focus on celebrating every moment; they eat delicious food, dance with their friends and spend memorable time with their loved ones. There’s no question that the event can be dangerous and that some believe the event to be unfair to the bulls, but in Spanish culture, it’s truly a tradition that has a great deal of history behind it.
Even if you don’t want to run in front of a bull, just being within the city alongside locals is an experience in itself. If you ever get a chance to go to Spain and this sounds like something up your alley, consider stopping in Pamplona during the first two weeks of July and check Running of the Bulls off your bucket list
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