Pamplona - The Bull Run

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The Pamplona festival – also known as the San Fermin Festival or Sanfermines– is held in Pamplona, Spain every year from July 6-14. The most famous part of the festival is the bull run or encierro when 15 bulls charge through the streets of the old city. Although the festival begins on July 6, the bulls do not run until July 7 and then run for 7 consecutive mornings. While referred to as “bulls” of the 15 animals running only 6 are wild bulls while the other 9 are steers familiar with the 0.51 mile course (825 meters). Six tame steers run with six aggressive black bulls to minimize injury to both animals and runners. Another 3 steers are released a minute after the first group to herd any of the wild bulls that may have been separated from the herd. To watch the bull run, click here for our videos page.

The Course

The route measures a 0.5 mile (825 meters) through the cobblestone streets of Pamplona’s historical center. Starting at 6 a.m. work crews clean all debris from the streets and install double rows of 7-foot high security fencing. Once the fences are installed, there are only a handful of entrance gates to the course. Looking at the map, the bulls start running out of their corrals on Santo Domingo street. They turn left into the City Hall square, run along Mercaderes, and then make a hard right on to Estafeta street. Many experienced runners believe this is the most dangerous part of the course. After this 90-degree turn, the bulls run a straight 330 yards (303 meters) up Estafeta towards the bull ring. They veer left on to Telefonica street and through a dangerous bottleneck tunnel called Callejon before entering the bullring. Click here for our maps page to see the bull run course.

What You'll Experience

Click here for our videos page with footage of a bull run. Spyns’ president, Ryan King, has often described the bull run as, “The start of the New York Marathon with bulls running through it.” The streets are only about 25 feet wide (7-8 metres) and the runners are packed in very tightly. Here is the chronology of a typical run:

  • 6:00-6:30 a.m. You arrive at the course. The crews are installing safety barriers. The sun is starting to rise.
  • 7:00 a.m. People are sitting on the safety fences. You’re packed in with another 3000 runners. The smell of sweat, fear, and last night’s sangria are overwhelming.
  • 7:30 a.m. The police are forcing people off the fences and loud speakers play announcements in different languages (Spanish, English, French, Japanese) telling people not to run drunk.
  • 7:45 a.m. Medical crews take up station between the barriers. The air is thick with fear.
  • 7:55 a.m. The crowd grows silent.
  • 8:00 a.m. A rocket explodes, signaling the pens are open. (Yells) A second rocket explodes, the bulls are running (Yells)
  • 8:01 a.m. The crowd starts to surge forward and lower down the course, the crowds yell as the bulls pass.
  • 8:01 a.m. The crowd surges. Everyone is screaming. You start running.
  • 8:01 a.m. The ground starts to shake as the bulls approach. You look backwards and see nothing but runners and a break in the crowd.
  • 8:02 a.m. The bulls are behind you. They are enormous! Fear hits you like an electric shock. You run flat-out and then veer left as they overtake you.
  • 8:03 a.m. The crowd starts yelling again. You think it’s over but another 3 bulls are suddenly behind you. You run again but the more experienced runners slow you down, these are tame steer released to collect any stray bulls on the course. You’ve done it.
  • 8:03 a.m. A third rocket explodes. The bulls are in the pens. A fourth rocket explodes. The run is over.
  • 8:05 a.m. The barriers are removed. The music starts up again and the fiesta continues.

The History

The history of the Pamplona's run remains unclear. There is evidence of the festival from as far back as the 13th century when it seems the events took place in October as this coincided with the festival of San Fermin on October 10th. It seems that the modern day celebration has evolved from this as well as individual commercial and bullfighting fiestas which can be traced back to the 14th century. Over many years the mainly religious festival of San Fermin was diluted by music, dancing, bullfights and markets such that the Pamplona Council proposed that the whole event be moved to July 7th when the weather is far more conducive to such a celebration. The festival featured daily bullfights and the bulls were herded through the winding streets to the local bullring (formerly in the Plaza del Castillo). Locals helped the shepherds drive the bulls and this eventually became running in front of the bulls.

A Few Misconceptions

Some common misconceptions about the bull run:

  • You don’t have to pay to run with the bulls, anyone sober over the age of 18 can run.
  • It is impossible to run with the bulls the entire length of the course, the bulls are just too fast.
  • “I’m going to wait just by the bull ring.” You can only run if you are waiting between the bull pens on Santo Domingo and Mercaderes; the police remove anyone beyond this point (just before the turn on Estafeta). Click here for our maps page. The bull run is on our Pamplona city map.
  • “I’ll just watch the run from the street.” Unless you are on a balcony, you won’t see the run as there are too many people crowding the route. You need to reserve a private balcony to see the run.

The Danger

Since 1924, 15 people have died running with the bulls and there are severe injuries every year. The cobblestone course is very slippery and the bulls fall, often taking runners with them. The bulls are also large, agressive, and have sharp horns. The last person killed during a bull run was an American named Matthew Tassio. He died in 1995 after being gored by a bull. The most dangerous days to run are at the beginning of the festival (July 6-8) or on Saturdays and Sundays when overcrowding is a serious problem.