It’s time for Spain’s annual Running of the Bulls! Run along with Tidbits as we investigate the details on this centuries-old tradition.
• Pamplona, Spain’s annual San Fermin Festival provides the backdrop for the running of the bulls, a festival that takes place over nine days, July 6 to 14 every year. The dates are the same every year, no matter what the days of the week. Pamplona. The festival honors St. Fermin, the patron saint of the city that lies about 250 miles (402 km) north of Madrid.
• The Running isn’t just one day – it occurs on eight of the nine days, beginning on the festival’s second day. It begins promptly at 8:00 AM, and takes an average of just three minutes to complete. The fenced course is 957 yards (875 m), less than half a mile, starting at the Corrales de Santo Domingo, where the bulls are kept, to the bullfight arena, the Plaza de Toros. Over a million spectators line the route.
• The Running of the Bulls can be traced clear back to 1385, when Pamplona began bullfights, and the tradition began when the animals were run through the city before the fights. The race seemed like an easy way to transport the bulls to the arena.
• The 12 animals aren’t just bulls. Six bulls are headed for the fights, but six steers (castrated bulls) are also released with them. The bulls are “Toro Bravos,” Spanish fighting bulls known for their aggression, energy, and strength. The calmer, slower steers help diminish the danger a bit.
• The traditional costume of the bull runners, who are known as “mozos,” is white pants and shirts, accented with a red bandana tied around the neck or waist. The white is to symbolize San Fermin’s sainthood, while the red represents the blood of his martyrdom.
• Runners who want to snap a photo of themselves running with the bulls can forget that! Selfies are prohibited, as is the consumption of alcohol before the race. It’s illegal to slap or grab a bull, to touch its horns, or yank on its tail, although…who would want to? The 4-year-old bulls are around 1,500 lbs. (680 kg) with razor-sharp horns and an innate instinct for goring.
• Not surprisingly, the adventure is a risky one. Between 50 and 100 people are injured every year. Official records have only been kept since 1924, but since that time 16 people have died in the run, with the most recent in 2009. There have been additional fatalities in other communities that host a smaller version of the Pamplona event.
• Experts emphasize the cardinal rule of the activity: “If you fall down, stay down. A mozo who falls should never get up – it’s better to be trampled by six bulls than to be gored by one.” For runners who do fall, the fetal position is advised, a position that has saved many runners.
• Novelist Ernest Hemingway popularized the Pamplona Running of the Bulls when he wrote about the event in two of his novels, The Sun Also Rises and Death in the Afternoon. Hemingway loved the festival and attended it nine times. However, for all his enthusiasm, he never ran with the bulls.