Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Pamplona Encierro

It's that time of year again, time for the famous 'Running of the Bulls' through the streets of Pamplona, Spain. This is the highest profile event of an annual 9-day festival of 'San Fermin', which begins each year at noon on July 6th and runs through midnight on July 14th. Saint Fermin is a Catholic saint who is the patron saint of the city of Pamplona. He was said to have been martyred by having his body drug through the streets by bulls. The current festival has it's roots in a secular festival previously held in June, and later moved to September, known as the Sanfermines. The bull runs began in the area as far back as the 13th century. Cattle merchants would come to town for commercial festivals to celebrate the beginning of summer, and bullfights became central to the celebrations. The runs custom traces it's origins back to the process of transporting bulls from their off-site corrals to the bullring for those bullfights. During this process, youngsters would jump in among the bulls as they were being moved in order to show their bravery. The celebration was finally formally established to the month of July in 1592. In 1926, Ernest Hemingway introduced his famous novel "The Sun Also Rises" based on the event, and it subsequently exploded in popularity around the world. What is now known as the Pamplona Encierro, or The Running of the Bulls, begins at 8am sharp with the firing of a rocket to announce that the bulls have been released from their corral. The narrow streets are blocked off with wood and metal barricades to keep the six bulls and six steers running in a 'chute'-type style towards a predetermined destination. The runners traditionally dress in white shirts & pants with red waistbands & neckerchiefs. There is a tradition that touching one of the bulls during the run brings luck, and many still try this, but it is illegal and the authorities do fine some people. There are various outlets for participants to escape should they find themselves in a dangerous predicament. Since records began being kept in 1924, fifteen people have been killed in the event. The most recent to be gored to death by a bull was a 20-year old American tourist in 1995. You want to run next year? You only need to be 18-years old, pick out a street to run on, and get into the crowd at the appointed time. There are any number of outlets packaging vacations to the Pamplona area during this time. But remember, while it can be exhilarating and is a life-event about which you can brag, the event is inherently dangerous, and foolish or reckless behavior can easily get you hurt. And that's no bull.

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