Brief History of the Fiesta de San Fermín
The History of the Fiesta de San Fermín dates all the way back to the Middle Ages and originates from three different celebrations – the 12th century religious ceremonies which were held in honor of San Fermín, 14th century ancient trade fairs and 14th century bullfighting festivals.
To begin with, the Fiesta de San Fermín was celebrated on October 10th, but in 1591 it was moved to July to coincide with the warmer, drier weather. Initially, the festival only lasted two days and was made up of an opening speech, music concert, tournament, theatre performance and bullfights.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, religious events became part of the line-up of attractions, alongside more music concerts and tournaments, dancing, acrobatic performances and giant parades. Texts from the time go into detail about how the clergy displayed incredible concern about the excessive drinking and unruly behavior of the young locals.
The 19th century saw the addition of unusual fairground attractions, such as women being fired out of cannons, wax models and exotic animals. The giant parades were also improved with bigger, better and more outlandish carnival heads. Several tragedies also occurred during this century when the lack of secure fencing meant that the bulls escaped into the streets on several occasions and ran loose throughout the city.
The Fiesta de San Fermín reached its peak of popularity in the 20th century, thanks to the novel written by Ernest Hemingway in 1926. Entitled “The Sun Also Rises”, this book attracted visitors from all over the world, eager to experience the festival for themselves. The 20th century also saw the addition of several new events to the program, such as the now-infamous Txupinazo opening ceremony.
Brief History of the Bull-Runs
“Locos” which loosely translates into “crazy people” have been known to run with the bulls throughout the streets of Pamplona since the early 14th century. This tradition began with the cattle herders who were forced to take part in this activity in order to move the bulls from their pens to the markets.
Throw in some male bravado and a bit of melodrama and the necessary runs transformed into a competition in which herders would attempt to outrun the raging bulls, all the while doing as many daring acts and stunts along the way as possible. The first official bull-run occurred on July 7th in 1591 and the bizarre tradition has continued to this day.
The Fiesta de San Fermín takes place each year in between July 6th and July 15th in Pamplona, the capital of Navarre in Spain. Not for the mild-mannered traveler looking for a quiet and laid-back experience, this festival is ten solid days of adrenaline-pumping activities, lively entertainment, non-stop partying and free-flowing alcohol.
Everything kicks off with the firing of the Txupinazo rocket on the start of the first day which is accompanied by the sound of champagne corks popping and red wine being downed by the bottle. The following days are an intoxicating blend of partying, with daily bull-runs, giant parades, bullfights, firework displays and an almost never-ending number of fiestas.
With so many events and activities packed into the ten-day fiesta, you’ll never have the time (or the energy!) to experience them all. If you’re planning on visiting Pamplona for the Fiesta de San Fermín, here’s a summary of the highlights of the festival:
Txupinazo Opening Ceremony
Be a part of the action from the very beginning by attending the Txupinazo opening ceremony. Held at the city’s Plaza Ayuntamiento at noon on July 6th, this ceremony boasts an amazing atmosphere, thanks to the onlookers who bring with them cases of red wine, champagne and cava, eager to celebrate the beginning of one of the most highly-anticipated events of the year.
The Bull Run
The infamous bull-run is a half mile course which winds its way through cobblestoned streets of the city to the bull ring. Runners traditionally pray to San Fermín for protection before running for their lives, quite literally, at the sound of the first rocket.
A series of four rockets marks the various stages of each bull-run. The first signals that the race has begun, the second that the bulls have been released and are running in the streets, the third that the bulls have entered the bull ring and the fourth that the bulls have entered their pens.
Bull-runs take place every day of the festival at 8am. If you want to take part yourself, you’ll need to get to the official entry point at the town hall between 6.30am and 7.30am. A bit of advice if you’re planning on running – scope out the course first so you know where the tricky bits are, be well rested and wear the best running shoes you’ve got.
The Closing Performance The Fiesta de San Fermín comes to a close with a candlelit performance of the song “Pobre de Mi”. The lyrics in Spanish are:
Pobre de mí, pobre de mí
Que se han acabado las fiestas de San Fermín
Which translates into English as:
Poor me, poor me
The fiestas of San Fermín have come to an end
Whilst some people are heart-broken that their favorite festival is over, others are thrilled that they won’t have to worry about their friends and family racing through the streets with bulls. Not for another year, anyway. Whichever side you’re on, grab a glass of wine and enjoy the performance as you reflect on your experience.
When it comes to a risk-taking adrenaline-junkie’s dream festival, it doesn’t get much better than the Fiesta de San Fermín. Since 1925, more than 15 people have been killed and hundreds of people are injured every year, so you’ll need the utmost caution if you’re planning on doing the bull-run.
If you’re traveling with children of any age or are a true animal lover, this festival certainly isn’t for you. The dangerous conditions are treacherous enough for responsible adults and there are some serious animal cruelty issues which may upset some visitors.
Taking this into consideration, if you’re looking for once-in-a-lifetime extreme experience, then Fiesta de San Fermín is perfect for you. Just remember to get a good night’s sleep beforehand, turn up sober, wear good shoes and run as fast as your legs will carry you.