Every year, thousands of people choose to run from over a dozen bulls and steers through the streets of Pamplona, Spain, as part of the city’s San Fermín Festival.
The 9-day-long festival takes place annually from July 6th to July 14th and is filled with music, fireworks, sangria, and bullfighting.
The festival kicks off with a fireworks display known as Chupinazo in front of Pamplona’s city hall, and the next morning the real fun starts: the bull runs. The runs start on the second day of the festival (July 7th) and happen every morning after that until the last day of the festival (July 14th).
The runs start with the release of a rocket, after which the bulls and steers are released onto the streets, and the “mozos” or runners start running. The run is a total of 900 yards (2,700 feet) and is only supposed to take about two minutes. The route is clearly marked by barricades that keep the animals from escaping into other parts of the city.
The run leads both the mozos and bulls into a bullring, the site where bull fights take place later in the day. The bulls that run through Pamplona’s streets are the same ones that are later killed in the fights.
It’s a risky event — 15 people have been killed during the event since 1910 and hundreds are usually injured. So far, three men have been gored by bulls and 1o have been hospitalized in this year’s festival.
Mozos who have fallen during the run are not supposed to get up, since there’s a higher chance they will be gored if they do. If the mozos are feeling too threatened by the bulls, they have the option of jumping behind one of the barricades placed along the street for the run.
So why do so many people risk their lives every year to be chased through the streets by bulls?
The tradition of bull running is connected to Spain’s tradition of bull fighting. In the earlier years of these traditions, bulls were kept in a bullpen miles from the city’s bullring where the fights happened. Come the morning of the fight, the bulls would be released and led to the ring, giving men the chance to show off their bravery by jumping onto the bulls and riding them.
The San Fermín Festival also has a long history that traces back to the 12th century, when it was a religious ceremony taking place in October that celebrated Fermín, one of the patron saints of the Navarre region, where Pamplona is located. The festival was later moved to July in hopes of better weather, and was most popular in the years after 1926, when Ernest Hemingway published “The Sun Also Rises,” which chronicled the festival and inspired people to go see it for themselves.
Today, the festival is a far cry from the religious celebration it once was. It’s a massive street party that attracts thousands of thrill-seekers from all over the world. There’s copious amounts of sangria, lots of crowd-surfing, music, and dancing in the city streets.
Festival goers who choose to participate in the runs today do it for the thrill and the glory.
A runner said the experience was like being shot at and missed in a documentary. Another runner described it as a “wonderful” adrenaline rush.
“There are coming down that street six fighting bulls and this maddened mass of humanity. It is life and death and it’s a risk and it’s a challenge and it’s wonderful,” he said.
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