The bull run
Setting religion to one side, the Bull Run is the central event of the Fiesta of San Fermin and the one which has projected the image of Pamplona to the five continents. All over the world, people have heard of the city where people run through the streets ahead of a herd of bulls. Live TV broadcasts of the event have but fed the legend and increased the number of participants to dangerous levels.
Origin and regulation in 1867
In mediaeval times, the bulls were led on foot from the countryside to the public square set up as a bullring. The last stretch was covered at dawn and at running pace in order not to disturb the locals. In Pamplona, this form of entering the city survived the arrival of the railway. Given the impossibility of prohibiting it due to its popularity, the City Council regulated the event in 1867. This photo was taken on the 8th of July 1939: the absence of the current double barrier meant that some bulls escaped, bringing panic to the city.
Consolidation of the route
The original path, which ended in the Plaza del Castillo, was changed in 1844 with the arrival of the bullring. The run went through Calle Estafeta for the first time in 1856.
Four rockets are launched during the run and the safety of the runners depends to a large extent on their being launched properly and on time. The first one is launched when the clock on the Church of San Cernin strikes 8 am. This is when the gates of the corral are opened and the barriers formed by the Municipal Police retaining the runners are withdrawn. The second rocket announces that the entire herd has left the corral, the third that the bulls and the oxen are in the Bullring and the fourth rocket indicates that the entire herd has entered the corral at the Bullring. The Bull Run has always taken place at the same solar time. Changes to official times meant that it was at six o’clock in the morning until 1924, at seven until 1973 and has been at eight o’clock since 1974.
Song at the niche
Minutes prior to the run, local runners invoke the Saint to ask for his protection. They do this in front of a niche located at the beginning of the hill of Santo Domingo, waving a newspaper in their hands. The song is sung three times (at 7.55 am, 7.57 am and 7.59 am) and the words go as follows: “A San Fermín pedimos (We ask of San Fermin)/ por ser nuestro patrón (for he is our patron)/ nos guíe en el encierro (to guide us in the Bull Run)/ dándonos su bendición (giving us his blessing)”. It ends with shouts of “Viva San Fermín!, Gora San Fermín!” (Long live San Fermin, first in Spanish, then in Basque) and is one of the most emotive moments.
Barriers were used for the first time in 1776 to mark the route of the Bull Run and they are the most important safety measure. They are made of fir wood and consist of 1,800 boards, 40 gates, 590 posts, 200 palisades, 2,400 wedges and 2,000 bolts. 20 boards are replaced each year due to damage.
Most of the runners carry a rolled-up newspaper to gauge distances with the bulls and to incite them if necessary.
The run is performed by the six bulls to be fought in the Bullring the same afternoon and two groups of oxen (bellwethers), easily recognisable thanks to the bells around their necks, used to lead them. Eight oxen run with the bulls. A further three leave the corral two minutes later, acting as a kind of broom wagon.
Pile-ups occur when one or several runners trip up, causing other runners to fall on top of them. There have been 24, with a total of 700 injured. The best-known pile-ups have taken place at the entrance to the Bullring. These were on the 7th of July 1922 (100 injured), the 7th of July 1943 (24 injured), the 9th of July 1975 (1 dead, 16 seriously injured and 100 with contusions) and the 8th of July 1977 (1 dead and 35 with contusions).
1. Santo Domingo. 280 metres. Between the corral and Plaza Consistorial. A steep slope The bulls tend to group together. One of the most violent and dangerous sections, particularly entering the square.
2. Plaza Consistorial-Mercaderes. 100 metres. One of the least dangerous sections despite being technically one of the most complicated due to its double bend. Runners enjoy greater space to run in. There are plenty of cubby-holes to seek protection in.
3. Bend of Estafeta. Calle Estafeta starts with a 90-degree right-hand angle, causing the bulls to slip and crash into the barrier on the outside of the bend. Runners should take the bend on the inside if they do not want to get caught up with the animals.
4. Estafeta-Bajada de Javier. Slight 2% slope. Long and narrow, it is one of the most popular stretches. The doorways along the street are the only protection available.
5. Bajada de Javier-Telefónica. The herd loses much of its pace. Sometimes, it breaks up and bulls drop behind. This makes it a dangerous stretch.
6. Telefónica. Barely 100 metres in which the double wooden barrier adopts the form of a funnel. Tiredness means a still slower pace and often causes the herd to break up, the most dangerous thing that can happen. The favourite place of the “divinos” (the divine: the most famed, expert runners) and many inexpert runners.
7. Lane. Funnel-shaped section which leads down into the Bullring. Much feared for the danger of human pile-ups.
8. Bullring. The middle is left free to allow the bulls to run through, led by the oxen and directed by the dobladores. The proliferation of inexpert runners and show-offs has made a dangerous stretch of a section which did not use to be so.
The Bull Run in figures
Time: 8 am
Dates: 7th to the 14th of July
Route: 848.6 metres. Santo Domingo, Plaza Consistorial, Mercaderes, Estafeta and the Bullring.
Average duration: 3 m 55 s
Speed of bulls: 24 km/h
The longest Bull Run: 30 minutes (11th of July 1959). A Miura bull dropped behind the herd and it was necessary to use a dog to bite it in order to lead it into the corral.
The most tragic Bull Run: 10th of July 1947 and 13th of July 1980. ‘Semillero’ (Urquijo) and ‘Antioquío’ (Guardiola) killed two runners apiece.
Number of runners: 2,000 on weekdays and almost 3,500 at weekends.
Most dangerous breed: Guardiola Fantoni. These bulls claimed one life in 1969 and two in 1980.
Number of injured a year: Between 200 and 300. Only 3% seriously.
Lives lost: 14
Last person gored to death: Matthew Peter Tasio (22 years of age, Illinois, USA) was gored to death on the 13th of July 1995 in the Plaza Consistorial by 'Castellano', a bull belonging to the Torrestrella ranch.