Known for its distinctive culture, music and food, Spain has always been a country that stands out as a European nation and it has rapidly become one of the most influential countries in the world. Today, many people know just how colourful and flamboyant Spanish dress and festivals can be, but few know just how deep the meanings and the history behind these events can be. Today we bring you Fiesta de San Fermin, better known as the Running of the Bulls, which takes place in early July each year in Pamplona.
San Fermin, or Saint Fermin as he is known among English speakers, was the son of a Roman senator in Pamplona in the 3rd Century AD. Fermin was converted to Christianity by Saint Honestus and baptized by Honestus’ teacher Saint Saturninus at the Small Well of Saint Cernin and was made an Ordained Priest in Toulouse before returning to be a Bishop in Pamplona. He rapidly set out to preach among the tribes surrounding Europe but was captured and beheaded in Gaul, or modern-day France, and today is considered a Martyr in the Catholic faith.
In time, Saint Fermin began to have celebrations organized around his tale sometime in the 14th Century. These saw large-scale commercial fairs as well as an opening speech, tournaments, bullfights, fireworks, dances, theatre and musicians. Before long, the festival began to gain foreign attention as travellers sought out to enjoy the event alongside the citizens, often culminating in drunkenness, bar brawls and eventually, the bulls being accidentally released. As this rapidly became the norm, the accidental bull-release became an event during the festival and saw individuals run alongside the bulls, weaving in and out of them as they dodged horns and made for narrow alleyways away from the stampede.
Today these events still take place and the festival sees its opening at midday on the 6th of July with a string of fireworks known as the Chupinazo as thousands celebrate the opening in the city hall’s square by cheering and donning red handkerchiefs. This is followed by dancing to the Astrain Waltz as the masses move to a nearby chapel dedicated to Saint Fermin, this process is called the Riau-Riau.
Each night, fireworks are released and each afternoon preceding a bullfight is held which sees the defeat of six bulls driven into the bullring during the running of the bulls that day, usually around 6:30pm. These fights are held in the fourth largest bullring in the world and the surrounding area of the Plaza de los Fueros sees stone lifting, hay bale lifting, wood cutting and Jai Alai (kind of like Squash) sporting tournaments. Each day the Gigantes, four-metre high puppets made out of papier-mâché with a wood frame, dance in the parades to traditional music. The Gigantes are over a hundred-and-fifty-years-old and represent four sets of two royal figures from four continents (Europe, America, Africa and Asia) while the smaller ones, the 6 Kilikis, 6 Zaldikos and the 5 Big-Heads, are caricatured versions of various individuals, groups and professions.
By far, the most prominent event of the festival is Encierro, or the Running of the Bulls. The runners will often sing a chant three times to a statue of Fermin by the itinerary to ask for the protection of the Saint before engaging in the run, then, at 8am, the event begins with the release of a firecracker as the bulls are released into the city with a second firecracker being used to denote the release of the last bull into the city. Typically there are twelve bulls in total, six of which being fighting bulls with the other six being oxen. As the bulls speed through the city, the runners join in and leap in front of the bulls as the run is guided towards the stadium. As the first bulls make it to the stadium, a 3rd firecracker is let off and as the last bull makes it into the stadium a 4th firecracker is released, signifying the end of the run. Then, young bulls with wrapped horns are released into the arena and the bulls charge at and toss the participants around to the cheers of the crowd. However, it is important to note that the event is dangerous and has seen the deaths of 15 people since 1925, most notably in 2009, additionally; hundreds are injured each year, albeit usually having only grazes and bruises.
On the 7th of July, thousands parade through parts of old Pamplona with a 15th Century Statue of Saint Fermin, accompanied by religious leaders, street performers, political leaders and dancers performing the Jota, a traditional dance of ancient origins. As the cathedral bell, Maria, chimes, roses are thrown into the Saint Cernin well and the Gigantes come along to dances and twirl.
Changing day but always occurring after the procession and before the 14th of July, El Stuendo, the Roar, is practiced. The Roar sees people gather at one minute to midnight at the Town Hall and for several hours with drums, bowls, whistles, shouting and more they attempt to make as much noise as possible.
The parties come to a close on the 14th of July as the masses gather on the Townhall Plaza at midnight and sing Pobre de Mi, Poor Me, mournfully through candle light. Then, every person removes their red handkerchief and lights a candle, signifying the end of the festival.
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