The launching of the rocket announcing the beginning of the festivities, better known as the Chupinazo, is the moment in which the fiesta really burst into life. At 12 o’clock sharp on the 6th, thousands of people congregate in the Plaza Consistorial to attend a relatively modern event which has become one of the most internationally recognised images of the Fiesta of San Fermin. A sea of neckerchiefs hailing in nine unrepeatable days.
Date: 6th of July.
Time: 12 midday.
Place: Plaza Consistorial.
The fuse of the rocket is lit at 12 o’clock sharp on the 6th of July on the central, second-floor balcony of the Town Hall. To the cry of “Viva San Fermin! Gora San Fermín!” (“Long live San Fermin!”, first in Spanish, then in Basque), the jubilation begins. The façade of the Town Hall is decked out with standards and the insignia of Spain, Navarre (red), Pamplona (green) and Europe.
Music and aperitifs
After 12 o’clock, just let yourself drift through the streets amidst the music and the crowds. If you are up to it, visit the peñas (San Fermin clubs) and their charangas (brass bands) in Calle Jarauta. If you want something a bit more peaceful, then the street cafes in the Plaza del Castillo are a must, though not cheap.
At twelve sharp
Heralds announce the launch of the rocket from the central, first-floor balcony of the Town Hall. Three minutes earlier, the person who is going to light the fuse, a municipal porter and a member of Pirotecnica Caballer, the Valencia-based firm which manufactures the rockets, appear on the upper balcony.
While they wait (and also after the rocket), the young people in the square uncork bottles of Cava and spray it all around them. Facing the Town Hall, red neckerchiefs held over their heads in both hands, they shout “San Fermin, San Fermin!” over and over again. After the Chupinazo, the street cleaners collect 30,000 kg of glass from the square.
The Plaza Consistorial measures 2,502m2. When the Chupinazo takes place, there are some 12,500 people in it (five per square metre), which should give you some idea of how tight things get! But be careful, if you are not there two hours beforehand, then you will have great difficulty getting into the square. Comfortable, light clothes are recommended because it can get very hot in amongst all those people. Wear easy-to-wash sports shoes. In nearly two hours, you can get splashed with almost anything. Do not go with children or elderly people, or if you suffer from dizziness or claustrophobia. Red neckerchiefs. Without doubt, the essential San Fermin garment. These can be bought at almost any clothes or fabric shop. Do not tie it around your neck until the first rocket goes off. The Pamploneses never do that.
If you would prefer to get away from the crowd, then the best place to see the rocket from is one of the balconies overlooking the Plaza Consistorial. Weeks earlier, notices with telephone numbers to ring to rent one out are hung up on many balconies.
1941, the first Chupinazo
The Chupinazo has been held for little more than half a century. For centuries, the Fiesta of San Fermin had always begun when the municipal authorities, accompanied by macebearers, “giants”, musicians and the public, went to the Church of San Cernin to attend the Vespers held in honour of the Saint. In 1901, people began to set rockets off in the Plaza del Castillo. In 1940, the Deputy Mayor Joaquín Ilundáin and the journalist José Mª Pérez Salazar suggested to the mayor that the Chupinazo should be launched officially from the balcony of the Town Hall. The next year, the mayor lit the first fuse.
Vespers and the Riau-Riau
At 8 o’clock in the evening on the 6th of July, Vespers are sung in honour of San Fermin in the Church of San Lorenzo. They are the first religious act of the Fiesta of San Fermin and the music programme is beautiful. The act dates back to the XV century. The Corporation attends in full ceremonial attire. Until recently, they used to walk to the church from the Town Hall. The march to Vespers was at half past five in the afternoon and hundreds of locals used to accompany the councillors on their way. The Riau-Riau, as it is known, emerged in 1914 as an act of protest against the authorities. Young locals tried to hinder the path of the Corporation to the tune of the ‘Waltz of Astrain’, the chorus to which is a hearty "Riau-Riau”. For the first few decades, the Riau-Riau lasted for an hour. As the years went by, it lasted longer and longer until it was finally suspended in 1991 (despite an attempt to bring it back in 1996) due to the intervention of violent, radical groups.
Historical Riau Riaus
1914. The Pamplona-born Carlist Ignacio Baleztena has the idea of hindering the path of the Corporation, which then belonged to the opposite end of the political spectrum.
1927. The first time it was prohibited. Mayor Demetrio Martínez de Azagra prohibits “the forming of groups in front of the procession”.
1972. The first time it was suspended: Mayor Javier Rouzaut calls the march to Vespers off after a 45-minute wait.
1980. The longest Riau Riau. The Riau-Riau is called off after 5 hours and 25 minutes; the Waltz of Astrain is played 170 times.
1985. It takes the Corporation 3 hours and 30 minutes to reach San Lorenzo.
1991. Serious incidents. A radical group prevents the councillors from leaving the Town Hall and try to storm the building.