The Running of the Bulls Pamplona.
San Fermin Overall Impressions.
The Running of the Bulls has become the central event in the much wider religious and traditional festival of San Fermin. Look closer and there is a lot more. A spectacular opening ceremony of the Chupinazo, the solemn procession to the patron Saint Fermin, the socialite morning dance of the Alpargata, the parade of the Giants, nightly fireworks, the infernal stirring music of the brass bands which play day and night, and of course the bullfights. With 50,000 to 100,000 visitors per day invading the old part of the town, it is amazing that the Running of the Bulls has kept its fascination with the public for a personal interaction that lasts but a few moments. But danger, religion, and the underlying tradition provides an enduring cloak of authenticity, outweighing the downsides that come with the influx of such large numbers and the sleeping (and drunken revelry) in the streets.
Running of the Bulls (The Encierro) schedule and route: 7th-14th July.
Anyone can participate in the encierro, by turning up on the day and entering the route through the official gates at Plaza Consistorial or Plaza del Mercado before the gates close at the latest at 7.30am.
The bull run starts ~8am from the bull pen on Cuesta de Santo Domingo, a steep uphill cobblestone street with a run section of 200m, that has the second most dangerous stretch of the encierro approaching the Plaza Consistorial. At 7:55am, the runners sing their prayer for protection to their patron Saint Fermin. It is a time of anticipation and high anxiety, and not a place for beginners. At 8:00am a rocket explodes and the gate of the bull enclosure is opened. Moments later a second rocket signals all bulls have been released. The police line in Mercaderes now allow the runners to start. There are normally 12 bulls of which 6 are steers that calm the fighting bulls and guide them as a group down the streets to the bullring. There follows a few cows with neck bells, and herders wielding long sticks to keep the herd moving forward and prevent any bull from turning around, see fig4.
The bull run then continues through the following sectors, see running of the bulls map, fig5.
♦ Plaza del Ayuntamiento to Mercaderes, a 130m stretch (view fig4) with gentle bends. It is one of the safest stretches, being wide with many escape points. There are a number balconies here with good views.
♦ Mercaderes-Estafeta corner, the sharp 900 bend causes some bulls to slip outwards and crash into the barrier. This is the best static place for photography although you need a pass to be on the barrier.
♦ Estafeta to Telefónica building. The street is long ~305m, narrow, and dark. It is one of the most crowded stretches and becomes more dangerous around 2/3 its length where it narrows and the bulls slow and tend to separate. Runners can only escape into the shallow doorways of the buildings. There are many viewing balconies on both sides of the street.
♦ Telefónica building, a ~90m stretch of open space lined with double wooden barriers that funnel runners and bulls together, increasing the danger for both expert and novice, particularly as the herd now tired tends to break up. It is a popular section for the experienced “Divinos” runners to show their bravado.
♦ Callejon-Plaza de Toros – The funnel shaped steep downhill tunnel with its narrowest point being only 3m wide, leading to the bullring. This is most dangerous section of the encierro as many runners fall blocking the flow.
♦ Plaza de Toros – The bulls run into the center of the ring. Here the bulls are led to the corrals.
The third and fourth rockets signal the herd has entered the bullring and all bulls are corralled respectively, marking the end of the event. The average duration between the first and 4th rocket is around four minutes.
Watching the Running of the Bulls.
1)Public viewing places for the encierro.
A double wooden fence Fig6, is used as a barrier along the wider sections of the encierro route. Spectators are confined behind the second fence, and can be obstructed by officials on the first fence which is reserved for press, police, first aiders etc, and the runners themselves. It is thus important to be on the top of the second fence to get a good view. In the narrow sections along the encierro route, the buildings themselves provide the barrier and no spectators are allowed. There are however a few places with a good unobstructed view, particularly on the wall overlooking the start on Cuesta de Santo Domingo. To get a good spot here, one needs to be in place around 5:30- 6am. Another place is inside the bullring where seating is unreserved.
2)Viewing the running of the bulls from rented Balconies.
There are many rental balconies with good viewing perspectives along the route (see Fig7 Balconies and places map), ranging from 1st floor level to 4th floor, and holding 4 or more persons per balcony. Note the end position facing the runners may partially block the view of the others. For a photographer it is worth requesting the booking agency for this location. My preference is also to choose a low balcony. There are a number of agencies that rent out balconies. These can be found by googling ” running of the bulls balconies,” or from a downloadable list from the official tourist office http://www.turismo.navarra.es. This site also gives a list of specialist local companies that provide tourist services including balcony rental for the encierro and San Fermin. The viewing aspect for individual balconies can be inferred using the street view tool in Google Earth. The position of the 1st floor balconies I hired from Erreka is shown in Fig7. Cost $60-$200/person. Note Estafeta is closed at 7am, so one should be inside the balcony apartment by 6:30-6:45am.
Opening Event: Chupinazo (Txupinazo in Basque).
Plaza del Ayuntamiento (The City Council square): 6th July.