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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Getting a Feel of Pamplona's San Fermin festival

The bull run in PamplonaImage via WikipediaAuthor: Ash Ford

San Fermin is Spain's original and most popular fiesta with the locals and tourists. It is celebrated for as long as a week with plenty of noise and merry-making. There are plenty of activities that comprise the San Fermin festival with the famous local bull runs and all night merrymaking.

A local tradition

This famous festival, also called ‘Sanfermines' by the locals, sees the town totally vibrant in its merrymaking in Pamplona from July 6 to July 14 every year. It is celebrated in honor of Pamplona's saint, San Fermin. This festival is not only famous in Spain; it is world renowned as foreign tourists drop into the town by the thousands each year. The most exciting activity in this festival which has brought acclaimed fame to this place is the ‘Encierro,' otherwise known as the ‘Running of the Bulls.' This tradition is a dangerous activity for thousands of locals who would run with the bulls released on the streets. Each bull weighs about 6.5 tons and runs about 800 meters down the street in quite a frenzied manner.

San Fermin was first celebrated in September but now is celebrated in July from 1591 due to weather conditions.

Components of San Fermin

The "chupizano" or the rocket kicks off the festival when it is fired into the sky with thousands at the central square as witnesses. Cava corks are happily popped and unceasing bottles spray to start the festival. The locals are all dressed in their famous red handkerchiefs tied around their necks with red sashes on their waists to start the week long partying.

Then the bull runs which really draw in the crowds come. Foreigners as well as locals are eager to get a piece of the action through active participation in this event, even if it is just running the mere 800 metres before the bulls enter the bullring for another spectacular and adrenalin-pumping event - the "corrida," or bullfight.

Every day of the week during the San Fermin, 6 bulls are released at 8 o'clock every morning for the Encierro with the rocket firing off. The frenzy of running with the bulls comes on strong for 3 minutes with runners avoiding the mad rush of humans and bulls in the streets.

This event is not without casualties, as experienced during the years 1924 to 1997, 14 deaths were recorded with more than 200 heavy injuries. A young American was gored to death in 1995. Although the Encierro is supposedly a Spanish tradition for the young Spanish lads, the foreigners are much too eager to participate in this dangerous event with little knowledge and experience, making them more susceptible to danger and injuries.

After the afternoon bullfights, the entire community will recede to a long night of partying. There is also the ‘Comparsa de Gigantes,' or an impressive parade of gigantic puppets with brass bands playing festive music. There is even a section where it is declared Guiri Day in honor of foreigners who lend color and festivity to the festival.

From a mere 200,000, Pamplona can swell to two million people during San Fermin. One is really surprised at the good nature and peaceful atmosphere despite the partying and boozing during the festival.

The festival ends dramatically and emotionally on the last day with a traditional mournful dirge entitled "Pobre di Mi" or ‘Poor Me' with candles and sobriety.
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