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The Ultimate Guide to the Running of the Bulls: Tradition, Controversy, and a Steady Tourism Draw

Almost everyone can picture it: people dressed in traditional red and white attire, running through narrow streets of an old Spanish town. A herd of bulls race after them. Chaos ensues.

It’s the “running of the bulls,” a mainstay of one of the world’s most famous annual festivals. The running has a rich tradition, and tourists seem to have an insatiable appetite to participate – every year nearly 1 million people flock to Pamplona, Spain to join in. 

Controversy, history, and an American connection are also a part of this alluring event. If you’ve ever thought about seeing the iconic race for yourself, you’ll want to go well-prepared. Check out our ultimate guide to the running of the bulls:

What is the Running of the Bulls?

Not everyone is aware that the running of the bulls is just one part of the week-long Festival of Saint Fermin, held each July in Pamplona, Spain. Or that the running is held every morning of the festival, and that the bulls who run will face their Matador in a bullfighting ring that evening. 

In short, here’s how the running of the bulls unfurls each day of the festival:

  1. Early in the morning, spectators begin to line the route of the run. If you own or rent a balcony overlooking the course, you can enjoy the spectacle with a bird’s eye view. For Lugos Travel clients, this is included.
  2. The city boards up shops and residences that line the route for protection. Streets are swept by police to remove anyone not participating in the event.
  3. Runners (called “Mozos” locally) take their places. When the first rocket is fired, they start to run.
  4. Then, a second rocket is fired, and the bulls are released. They stampede along the route until they reach the bullfighting arena.
  5. Most runners will eventually move aside to let the bulls pass. But there are always a few tramplings, gorings, and, tragically, some Mozos have even died during the event. 
  6. The entire sequence repeats each day throughout the festival. Each running lasts around three minutes. 

History and Tradition

Saint Fermin is one of the patron saints of Navarre, a region in northern Spain. Pamplona is its capital. It is believed that Saint Fermin was martyred in the 4th Century by being dragged to his death in the streets as a herd of bulls ran behind him. And so, the running of the bulls was born.  

But it’s not the only event that takes place during the festival. Revelers can partake in the week-long street party that unfurls throughout Pamplona. Worshippers venerate Saint Fermin at daily mass. Locals play traditional Basque sports. There are parades. Fireworks light up the sky each night. And, of course, each evening there is a bullfight in the Pamplona bullring. 

Other traditions associated with the Festival of Saint Fermin include the traditional dress of white clothes and a red bandana, and the traditional song, Pobre de mí.

Who Can Run?

Anyone over the age of 18 can run the running of the bulls. There are strict rules that guide the race (no inappropriate clothes, no running backward, no provoking the bulls, etc), and many runners participate every year as part of their local tradition. 

If you prefer to enjoy your Saint Fermin traditions at a more relaxed pace, you can reserve a spot in the arena for the evening’s bullfight instead.

Controversies

While incredibly popular with many locals and tourists alike, the running of the bulls, and the ensuing bullfight, are not without their detractors. Many see this centuries-old tradition as not fit for modern times. First, there is the danger posed to both the bulls and the runners during the morning’s race. Racers are trampled or gored. Bulls slip and injure themselves on the old stone streets. Since record-keeping began in 1910, 16 people have been killed during the run. 

Next, there is the bullfight itself. Each bull that runs in the morning will meet its end in the ring, through a drawn-out process that involves multiple injuries to the animal. While many see a venerable tradition that should be preserved, others see something best left to the history books. 

The American Connection

Avid readers might know that Ernest Hemmingway paid numerous visits to Pamplona, particularly in the 1920s, and that it inspired him to write his first successful novel, The Sun Also Rises. Hemmingway had a passion for Pamplona and its traditions. He is remembered by the city as one of its greatest advocates and as having helped make the Festival of Saint Fermin an international sensation. They erected a sculpture of him in 1968. 

Planning Ahead: A Must for Your Running of the Bulls Experience

While the Festival of Saint Fermin – and, thus, the running of the bulls – was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, festivities are set to recommence in 2022. 

The iconic nature and sheer popularity of the week-long celebration necessitate careful pre-trip planning, in order to take full advantage of this bucket list experience. This is also an opportunity to build a larger Spanish getaway, including stops in Madrid or Barcelona (you will likely fly to one of these before making your way to Pamplona). 

Advance considerations include balcony reservations for the running of the bulls, bullfighting tickets, ideal lodging options, transfer to Pamplona, and other tour and event reservations. Luxury accommodations and transport do exist, but they book up quickly, so the time to start planning for 2022 (or 2023) is now. Space is limited, and we have max space on this tour for 6 couples for 2022.

Ready to make your Pamplona experience happen? Our team at Lugos Travel can arrange everything for you down to the last detail, so you can enjoy your getaway stress-free (until you join the Mozos, at least). Start planning your luxury Spanish trip with us today. 

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