How to Survive the Pamplona Bull Run In Spain

A holiday in Spain in July is always a good way of guaranteeing sunshine, but why not make it a little different this year and visit Pamplona during the Bull Run while you’re there as well. You can book it as part of a package – the running of the bulls is an iconic event and the town fills up fast – or perhaps you could make a visit to Pamplona as part of a longer break – either way, you can start your holiday with some hassle free parking, so you don’t have to worry what is happening to your car while you are away.

Flights leave for Pamplona or nearby cities regularly from most UK airports, so if you live out of London you could always choose Manchester Airport, for example, as your starting point, or you could opt for Heathrow, parking there being simple and inexpensive. If you’re planning a visit to Pamplona to watch – or even attend – the bull run, here are some things you should know…

The History of Bull Running

This fascinating ceremony possibly dates from the early 14th century when cattle were being driven to market.

Young men would prove their courage with reckless acts of bravado by jumping about among the stampeding animals. This developed over the centuries into a contest in which men would race the bulls, trying to keep ahead of them.

In fact, leaping with bulls is much older than that in other traditions. The wall paintings at Knossos in Crete show young men somersaulting over bulls in the Minoan period, centuries before the idea of bull-fighting emerged in Spain.

Where and When

The Pamplona bull run is the most famous in the world but it is repeated across Spain and Portugal in different fiesta times, not to mention France, Mexico and Nevada. But if you only ever see one bull run in your life, Pamplona is the one to aim for – as a spectacle it is unrivalled.

Although bull running takes place in other places nowadays, the Pamplona event is the most famous, taking place during the seven day Festival of San Fermin.

Every July this event is broadcast on two Spanish television channels and begins with a sung benediction – ‘We ask San Fermin, our patrol, to guide us through the Run and give us his blessing.’

Various streets in Pamplona are cordoned off with wooden or steel barriers and a rocket is fired to signal the start of the race. Runners have to be 18 years old, sober and must not goad or incite the bulls in any way.

What To Wear

The runners wear the ceremonial dress of the Festival – white shirt and trousers with red sash and neckerchief.

They also carry a rolled newspaper to ‘steer’ the bulls away from them – although how much help a newspaper is against an enraged bull is something that has never been proven..!

What To Expect

Anything between six and twelve bulls are released and the average run lasts for four minutes. Non slip surfaces have recently been introduced which makes the run that much faster and more exciting to watch.

There are man-sized gaps along the route so that a runner who may be in trouble can slip through where a bull cannot follow.

Ernest Hemingway watched the run and wrote about it in two books – The Sun Also Rises and Death in the Afternoon and the event has appeared in Hollywood and Bollywood films as recently as 2011.

The Fire Bull Event

A nightly version of the event is the ‘fire bull’  in which runners wearing bull horns with fireworks attached and excited squealing children take the place of the young men and bulls of the day.

In 2008 a quirky copy was held in Pamplona when David Coulthard and Sebastian Bourdais driving Formula One cars ‘chased’ 500 runners along the route of the run.

Have you watched the running with the bulls, or is it something you would want to do?

(photo credit: 1 – 2 – 3 – 4)