The Running of the Bulls
23rd July 2012
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The festival of La San Fermin, held annually in the Spanish city of Pamplona from the 6th to the 14th of July, is the continuation of a centuries old tradition deeply rooted in the cultural history of the Basque region. It’s a fiesta of extravagant and epic proportions, famous the world over for ‘The Running of the Bulls’, for its wild, sangria fuelled street parties and for La Corrida - The Bullfight. In the early hours of the morning, as the sun rises and festival goers stagger through the streets drinking the last of the night’s sangria, Pamplona prepares for ‘El Encierro’ - The Running of the Bulls - the daily ritual which sees six fighting bulls and a number of guiding steer released onto the streets to be run into the ‘La Plaza de Toros’- The Bull Ring. Waiting in the streets for this stampede are hundreds of runners, who will sprint alongside the charging pack, desperately avoiding horns and flailing hoofs along the 850 metre stretch of narrow, cobblestoned streets and sharp corners that form the run. I’m waiting at the start of the run, nervously holding the day’s newspaper, rolled up in one hand and used by runners to draw the bull’s attention. People are jumping around apprehensively as the balconies, ledges and barriers all along the route fill with rowdy onlookers and a worryingly disproportionate number of police and medical personnel begin to line the streets. With five minutes to go until the bulls are released runners begin to chant for guidance from the patron Saint of Pamplona and the fiesta’s namesake, San Fermin. Bashing fists in the air they scream ‘Viva San Fermin! Gora San Fermin!’, long live San Fermin in Spanish and Basque. With 3 minutes to go, cries of ‘Viva San Fermin! Gora San Fermin!’ are repeated, and the noise of the crowd begins to rise in anticipation. With one minute left there’s a final shout- ‘Viva San Fermin! Gora San Fermin!’- and the tense atmosphere is all too apparent as the crowd whistle and cheer and runners bounce around on the spot. The crack of a single firework signals the release of the bulls and as they hurtle towards the packed crowd of runners, people begin sprinting off up the street. I’m bouncing around on the spot still, waiting for a glimpse of the pack and ahead of me people begin running, or throwing themselves to the sides of the street as the bulls career through the crowd, knocking people flat and sending people stumbling and flying across the cobblestones.
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