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The bull run in Pamplona, Spain

The Running of the Bulls (in Spanish encierro, from the verb encerrar, to lock/shut up, to pen)[1] is a practice that involves running in front of six bulls that have been let loose, on a course of a sectioned-off subset of a town's streets. The most famous running of the bulls is that of the nine-day festival of San Fermín in Pamplona,[2] although they are held in towns and villages across Spain, Portugal, and in some cities in Mexico[3] and southern France, during the summer. Unlike bullfights, which are performed by professionals, anyone may participate in an encierro.

The purpose of this event is the transport of the bulls from the off-site corrals where they had spent the night, to the bullring where they would be killed in the evening. Youngsters would jump among them to show off their bravado.

Spanish lore says the true origin began in Northeastern Spain during the early 14th century. While transporting cattle in order to sell at the market, men would attempt to speed the process by hurrying their cattle using tactics of fear and excitement. After years of this practice, the transportation and hurrying began to turn into a competition, as young adults would attempt to race in front of the bulls and make it safely to their pens without being overtaken. When the popularity of this practice increased and was noticed more and more by the expanding population of Spanish cities, a tradition was created and stands to this day.[citation needed]

Injuries are common to the participants who may be gored or trampled,[4] and to the bulls, whose hooves grip poorly on the paved or cobbled street surfaces.[5]


The event

Pamplona, 7 July 2005. People climb to the fences as the bulls run by and cross the Town Hall Plaza

Before the running of the bulls, a set of wooden or iron barricades is erected to direct the bulls along the route and to block off side streets. There may be a double row of barricades along the route to allow runners to quickly exit in case of danger. The gaps in the barricades are wide enough for a person to slip through, but narrow enough to block a bull.

A group of large oxen are released at the end of the run to pick up any stragglers then a run is considered good if the bulls flow swiftly.[citation needed] Whenever a bull gets separated from the herd, it can be very dangerous because it becomes disoriented and often attacks anything, or anyone who attracts its attention[citation needed].

Pamplona bull run

The Pamplona[2] encierro is the most popular running of the bulls in Spain and is broadcasted live by two national television channels.[6][7] It is the highest profile event of the San Fermin festival, which is held every year from July 7–14.[2]. The first bull running is on July 7, followed by one on each of the following mornings of the festival, beginning every day at 8am.[4]

Being over eighteen and entering the itinerary before 7:30 are the main requirements to participate. Other prohibitions are to run under the influence of alcohol, run in the opposite direction of the running or inciting the bulls.[4]


In Pamplona a double wooden fence is used in those streets where there is enough space for it, while in other parts the buildings of the street act as barriers. It is composed of around three thousand separate pieces and while some parts are left for the duration of the fiesta others are mounted and dismounted every morning.[8]


Police barrier at the beginning of the running stops people until the first rocket is thrown. In the top lef corner of the image (in white) is the altar of the San Fermín statue which receives the prayers and chantings from the runners.

The Pamplona event begins with runners singing three times "A San Fermín pedimos, por ser nuestro patrón, nos guíe en el encierro dándonos su bendición" ("We ask Saint Fermín, as our Patron, to guide us through the encierro and give us his blessing"), a prayer given at a statue of Saint Fermin, patron of the festival and the city, to ask the saint's protection. The singers finish by shouting “Viva San Fermín!, Gora San Fermín!” ("Long live San Fermin", in Spanish and Basque).[4] Runners dress in the traditional clothing of the festival which consists of a white shirt and trousers with a red waistband and neckerchief. In one hand, they hold the day's newspaper rolled to draw the bulls' attention from them if necessary.[4]

The running

Pamplona, 2007. Bulls following some runners enter the bullring, where the event ends. The oxen can be seen in the background of the picture.

A first rocket is set off at 8 am. to alert the runners that the corral gate is open. A second rocket signals that all six bulls and six steers have been released. The third and fourth rockets are signals of all the herd entering the bullring and its corral respectively, marking the end of the event.[4] The average duration between the first rocket and the end of the encierro is around four minutes.[4]

The herd is composed by the six bulls to be fought in the afternoon and six steers, which run with the bulls and three more that leave the corral two minutes later. The function of the oxen is to guide the herd and all the days of the festival are the same.[4] The average speed of the herd is 24 km/h (15 mph).[4]

The length of the run is 826 meters (.513 miles) and goes through 4 streets of the old part of the village (Santo Domingo, Town Hall Square, Mercaderes and Estafeta) and a section called "Telefónica" before entering into the bullring.[2] The fastest part of the route is up Santo Domingo and across the Town Hall Square, but the bulls often became separated at the entrance to Estafeta Street as they slow down. One or more would slip going into the turn at Estafeta, but with the use of the new anti-slip surfacing, most of the bulls negotiate the turn onto Estafeta and are often ahead of the steers. This has resulted in a quicker, but not safer run as the bulls are usually out ahead of the steers as they reach the lane.[citation needed]

Injuries and fatalities

Every year between 200 and 300 people are injured during the run although most injuries are contusions due to falls and are not serious.[4] Since 1910, 15 people have been killed in Pamplona.[4]

Deaths since 1910 in the bull run of Pamplona[4]
Year Name Age Origin Location Cause of death
1924 Esteban Domeño 22 Navarre, Spain Telefónica
1927 Santiago Zufía 34 Navarre, Spain Bullring
1935 Gonzalo Bustinduy 29 San Luis Potosí, Mexico Bullring Incited a bull to charge using his jacket [9]
1947 Casimiro Heredia 37 Navarre, Spain Estafeta
1947 Julián Zabalza 23 Navarre, Spain Bullring
1961 Vicente Urrizola 32 Navarre, Spain Santo Domingo
1969 Hilario Pardo 45 Navarre, Spain Santo Domingo
1974 Juan Ignacio Eraso 18 Navarre, Spain Telefónica
1975 Gregorio Gorriz 41 Navarre, Spain Bullring
1977 José Joaquín Esparza 17 Navarre, Spain Bullring Suffocated in a pile-up at the entrance to the Bullring.[4]
1980 José Antonio Sánchez 26 Navarre, Spain Town Hall Square
1980 Vicente Risco 29 Badajoz, Spain Bullring
1995 Matthew Peter Tassio 22 Illinois, USA Town Hall Square Goring[10]
2003 Fermín Etxeberria 63 Navarre, Spain Mercaderes Hit by the horn of a bull[11]
2009 Daniel Jimeno Romero 27 Alcalá de Henares, Spain Telefónica Goring[12][13]

Media depictions

The encierro of Pamplona has been depicted many times in literature, television or advertising. The cinema pioneer Louis Lumière filmed the run in 1931.[14] but became known world wide partly due to the descriptions of Ernest Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises and Death in the Afternoon.

Other examples

Fire bull and children running from it.

Although the most famous running of the bulls is that of San Fermín,[2] they are held in towns and villages across Spain, Portugal, and in some cities in southern France during the summer. Examples are the bull run of San Sebastián de los Reyes, near Madrid, at the end of august which is the most popular of Spain after Pamplona, the bull run of Cuéllar, considered as the oldest of Spain since there are documents of its existence dating back to 1215, the Highland Capeias of the Raia in Sabugal, Portugal, with horses leading the herd crossing old border passes out of Spain and using the medieval 'Forcåo', or the bull run of Navalcarnero held at night.

Mock bull runs

A variation is the nightly "fire bull" where balls of flammable material are placed on the horns. Currently the bull is often replaced by a runner carrying a frame on which fireworks are placed and dodgers, usually children, run to avoid the sparks.

In 2008-06-28, Red Bull Racing driver David Coulthard and Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Sebastien Bourdais performed a version of 'bull running' event in Pamplona, Spain, with the drivers chasing 500 runners at a 800 metre track[15] with Formula 1 race cars.[16]

The Big Easy Rollergirls roller derby team has performed a version of annual bull run in French Quarter since 2007.[17][18]


Many animal rights activists oppose the event. PETA activists have created the "running of the nudes", a demonstration the day before the beginning of San Fermín in Pamplona. By marching naked, they protest the festival and the following bullfight, arguing the bulls are tortured for entertainment.[19]

The city of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, canceled its Sanmiguelada running of the bulls after 2006, citing public disorder associated with the event.[20]

See also


  1. ^ "Spanish-English Dictionary". 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Sanfermin guide. Running of the bulls". Kukuxumusu. 2007. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  3. ^ "Bull-run hits liquor-fueled town", Feb. 2, 2009. "The tradition, enacted in a handful of Mexican towns, traces its roots back to the centuries-old Pamplona bull-run in Mexico's former colonial power." Retrieved March 4, 2009.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "The Bull Run". Ayuntamiento de Pamplona (Council of Pamplona). Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  5. ^ 13 are injured in Pamplona's running of the bulls
  6. ^ "Sanfermines 2008". Cuatro. 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  7. ^ "27 años de Sanfermines en TVE". RTVE. 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  8. ^ "Encierro bullrun San Fermin festival Sanfermines tourist information on Navarre". Government of Navarre. Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ "The last person killed at Pamplona". BBC. 14 July 2005. Retrieved 10 July 2009. "...Matthew Tassio...22 years old and came from Chicago...The...bull...hit him in the abdomen, severed a main artery, sliced through his kidney and punctured his liver" 
  11. ^ "Muere el pamplonés Fermín Etxeberria, de 63 años, herido en el encierro del 8 de julio" (in Spanish). 25 September 2003. Retrieved 10 July 2009. 
  12. ^ "Bull gores man to death in Spain". BBC. 10 July 2009. Retrieved 10 July 2009. "The 27-year-old was gored in the neck on Friday, during the fourth bull run of the week-long San Fermin festival. Daniel Jimeno Romero, from Madrid, had emergency surgery in hospital but died of his injuries. Earlier reports had described the dead man as British....a veteran Spanish bull-runner died after a fall in 2003" 
  13. ^ "One dead in the running of the bull’s in Pamplona". 10 July 2009. Retrieved 10 July 2009. "A runner died in today’s running of the bulls in the northern spanish city of Pamplona, the bull running held during the famous San Fermin festivities. The man died after being gored in the neck and lung by a bull of the Jandilla ranch, named “Capuchino”.The runner, Daniel Jimeno Romero from Alcalá de Henares (Madrid) was at the end of the street run" 
  14. ^ Encierro de toros in the Spanish-language Auñamendi Encyclopedia.
  15. ^ Red Bull to visit Pamplona for Bull running
  16. ^ encierro formula 1 en pamplona
  17. ^ Big Easy Rollergirls to reinact famed bull run
  18. ^ San Fermín in Nueva Orleans, The Running of the Roller Girls
  19. ^ Running of the Nudes. PETA official site.
  20. ^ "No More Bull (Running, That Is) in San Miguel de Allende," Austin American-Statesman, May 24, 2007. Retrieved Mar. 4, 2009

External links


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