Pamplona – The clock strikes eight in the morning and an audible silence descends on the morning crowds, they eagerly await the ceremonial rocket fired which hails the moment the bulls are let loose. In just seconds twelve tons of bulls charge through the narrow medieval streets of Pamplona overflowing with over 3500 adrenaline filled runners.
This religious festival in honour of Saint Fermin runs every year from July 6-14. A dozen bulls run every morning except on opening day or the Chupinazo when there is an opening ceremony in front of city hall that can only be described as part rock concert, part champagne water fight, part World Cup soccer match.
The daily runs or encierros are a throwback to medieval times when herdsmen drove their bulls through the streets of Pamplona to the bullrings. Bullfighting has been a Spanish tradition for hundreds of years. Towns people helped drive the bulls and this tradition eventually became running in front of the bulls. Hemingway made Pamplona famous with his book, “The Sun Also Rises.”
5 Interesting facts about the San Fermines bull running festival
- Although running with the bulls is thought of as highly dangerous only 12 spectators have died from bull running injuries in the last century.
- The San Fermines festivals was popularised by the flamboyant author, Ernest Hemmingway in the book The Sun Also Rises.
- The origins of the Pamplona religious festival dates back to the middle ages.
- The actual running with the bulls only lasts for a few frantic minutes.
- The spectators and runners sing "La Cancion del Encierro" three times before each bull run takes place.
Running with the bulls is a dangerous yet exhilarating experience. If there was any doubt as to the risk, the entire route is lined with two sets of protective fencing. Would-be runners often give up minutes before the run as ambulances, medical crews and police take their stations. The smell of fear is everywhere and only grows thicker as the bell tower strikes eight. Near silence is broken by the crack of a rocket announcing the gates have opened. A second rocket announces the bulls are running. What follows is pure mayhem.
Yells and screams reach a fever pitch. The crowd surges forward and then parts as the herd approaches. Each bull weighs at least 1200 pounds and even with heads bowed their horns easily reach up to your shoulders. Running in front of them is terrifying. Your feet hardly touch the ground. The bulls start overtaking and you instinctively move to the side but strangely follow the herd whooping and screaming. Your run may have lasted just seconds but the memories last a lifetime.
The bull runs are just a small part of the festival. Families with small children are everywhere and the streets are overflowing with crowds, rides, bands, parades and dancing. Despite the often raucous masses, the feeling is one of friendship where all are united in joyous celebration. Bull running is the most famous side of San Fermin, but we most remember the warmth and kindness of the people of Spain.
There are a number of reputable travel companies offering holiday packages designed around the Pamplona Las Fermines and bull running festival, these include:
Top things to do in Pamplona
Visit the Grand Pamplona Cathedral
Work on this Grand cathedral began in the thirteenth century and took one hundred and fifty years to fully complete. Some new additions to the cathedral happened as recently as the early nineteenth century. The cathedral is a cultural masterpiece showing several elements of architectural styles including Gothic, Neoclassical, and Renaissance. It also houses the second largest bell in Spain, several religious artifacts, and a crypt that holds the remains of several Spanish Kings and Queens.
The Palace of Navarra
This is the most visible piece of Pamplona’s heritage, designed by José de Nagusia in 1840. It is now an administrative center, although visits to the palace can be scheduled by appointment. The exterior of the building is home to two great sculptures representing the King Sancho the Great and King Sancho VII the Strong. There is also a sculpture of Navarre’s coat of arms flanked by one man from the north of Navarre and another man from Navarre’s mountain region. The interior of the Palace of Navarra building is just as exquisite. Here, you will find the Throne Room, the Session Room, the Chapel, and the President’s office.
The Museum of Navarra
The Navarra Museum stands opposite the Royal Palace and is well worth visiting, it houses the greatest art collections and archaeological findings in Navarra. Some date back to pre-historical periods while most fall within the Roman, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods. The most prized works of art at this museum include the Mosaic of Theseus, Goya’s portrait of the Marqués de San Adrián, and the Chest from Leyre
Saint Nicholas Church
Built in the twelfth century, Saint Nicholas church had both religious and military functions. Its purpose was to dissuade opposing forces from attacking Pamplona. This is why the church has unusually thick walls, three watchtowers, and wrought iron nails. The interior of the church is Gothic. It also has a Baroque organ considered to be the most important in Pamplona.
Take a Walk in Its Historic Parks
Another must visit in the city are Pamplona’s exquisite gardens, some of which date as far back as Roman times when Pompey, the great general of Rome, built a base in the area to fight Sertorius, a great adversary of Rome. Taconera Park is one of the oldest parks in this city offering wide paths for pedestrians, sculptures at every corner and pretty ornamental flower beds. Other picturesque parks include the Media Luna Park, Yamaguchi and the Arga Park.
Visit the City Walls of Pamplona
The city walls where integral to Pamplonas past with the Spanish government designated them as a national monument in 1937. The people of Pamplona built these walls during the Roman conquest, French invasions and war with invading Muslims. Only three quarters of the old city walls survived these various onslaughts even though they were repeatedly rebuilt. You can find “The French Entrance,” the Taconera Gardens, and “The Old Fortress” along these City Walls.
Eating Out in Pamplona
Pamplona offers enormous diversity for travelers to consider when they come to this city. Eating out in the smaller tapas bars in Pamplona is fun and fulfilling and may be the best way to combine all of the elements of traditional local cooking in one place without breaking the bank.
Cafe Iruna: A favourite haunt of Ernest Hemingway a great place to enjoy excellent coffee and a quick home made tapa.
Restaurant Besseriberri: Is a popular fine dining restaurant offering unique cuisine prepare by the amazing young chef Inaki Andradas. This master chef offers a gastronomic infusion of food with its roots firmly in the Navarra region. You will need to make your reservation well advance to avoid disappointment.
Restaurant Jostexo: Is a family run eatery offering traditional recipes creatively served. Another one named after the famous patron saint of Pamplona is the Restaurant San Fermin which serves a variety of dishes from the Navarra region.
Recommended Accommodation in Pamplona
The 5 star Gran Hotel La Perla is one of the best luxury hotels in the region. Located just a short walk from the cathedral this elegant hotel has 44 traditional rooms and a fine in-house restaurant offering local-inspired meals. The hotel is within a minutes walk of mnay of the cities attractions, tapas bars, restaurants and charming pubs. Reviewer Rating: 9.8
An excellent choice of mid range accommodation is the 4 star Hotel Pompaelo Plaza del Ayuntamiento & Spa located in the heart of the city close to all the top attractions. The hotel has been recently refurbished and has 44 modern bright rooms as well a spa centre and modern lounge dining area. Reviewer Rating: 9.9
The Aloha Hostel is an ideal choice for backpackers on a budget. This fine hostel offers 4 comfortable rooms, a sun deck, free wifi, shared bathroom and is located just a short walk from the historic old quarter of the city. Reviewer Rating: 9.0