Pamplona in pics: San Fermin bull fest kicks off with a bang

Thousands of revellers wearing red and white sprayed each other with red wine in Pamplona's main square on Wednesday for the start of Spain's famed San Fermin bull-running festival.

Pamplona in pics: San Fermin bull fest kicks off with a bang
The first day of the San Fermin fest in Pamplona on Wednesday. Photo: Miguel Riopa/AFP.

The nine-day fiesta got underway at midday to cries of “Viva San Fermin!” at city hall, followed seconds later by the firing of a firecracker known as the chupinazo.

Masses of merrymakers, many wearing traditional white outfits trimmed with red neckerchiefs and cummerbunds, danced and sprayed each other with cheap wine as red and white confetti rained down on them.

Photo: Miguel Riopa/AFP.

The crowds passed large yellow and black inflatable balls over their heads as scores looked down from packed apartment balconies.

Photo: Pedro Armestre/AFP.

For the first time this year the person who launched the chupinazo and set off the bedlam was chosen by a popular vote organised by city hall from a list of six candidates.

The winner was 85-year-old Jesus Ilundain Zaragueta, who took part in his first Pamplona bull run when he was just 15 and continued into his 60s.

“San Fermin is celebrated in heaven. I am convinced,” he said in an interview published in local newspaper Diario de Navarra.

The 'chupinazo' start rocket celebration on the opening day. Photo: Miguel Riopa/AFP.

The festival in honour of the patron saint of Spain's northern Navarra region – San Fermin – dates back to medieval times it involves religious processions and all-night partying in addition to the hair-raising daily bull runs that have made it famous.

Each day at 8:00 am hundreds of people race with six huge bulls, charging along a winding, roughly 850-metre (more than half a mile) course through narrow streets to the city's bull ring, where the animals are killed in an afternoon bullfight.

The bravest run as close to the tips of the horns as possible without being gored.

Photo: Miguel Riopa/AFP.

The first bull run, which traditionally draws the largest number of participants, is on Thursday. A run takes on average just under four minutes. 

Dozens of daredevils are hospitalized each year. Most of the injuries are not caused by bull horns but by runners falling, or being knocked over and trampled by the animals.

Fifteen people have been killed in the bull runs since modern day records started in 1911.

Besides the risk of injury during the runs, another concern during the festivities is that of sexual assault.

City officials have boosted their efforts this year to combat such crimes by deploying more police, providing better lighting in dark areas and installing high-definition cameras to catch perpetrators on film.

Urine-repellent paint

About 50 semi-naked animal rights activists daubed themselves with fake blood and stood outside of Pamplona's bullring on Tuesday holding signs that read: “Pamplona: Bloodbath for bulls” in several languages.

The festival was immortalized in Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises and it attracts thousands of visitors from around the world.

Hotel occupancy in Pamplona on the eve of the start of the festival stood at 80 percent, two percentage points higher than during the same time last year, according to the Navarra Hotel Association.

“I think the rise in the number of foreign visitors this year at the national level has had an impact on San Fermin,” the association's secretary general, Nacho Calvo, told AFP.

Pamplona city hall will spend €1.95 million ($2.17 million) on cultural programming during the festival which wraps on July 14th. Over 400 events are planned, mostly concerts.

Photo: Miguel Riopa/AFP.

To stop revellers from relieving themselves in public during the festival, municipal workers this year coated the walls of busy areas of the city centre with a clear urine-repellent paint that causes pee to spray back on the person's shoes and pants.

Last year 76 people were fined in Pamplona, a city of around 300,000 people, for urinating in public during San Fermin. The offence carries a fine of €300 ($335) – or half that if it is paid right away.

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PETA offers cash to ban Pamplona’s famous running of the bulls forever

With the news last week that the Spanish city of Pamplona in Navarra has been forced to cancel its bull running fiesta for the second year running due to the Covid crisis, animal rights activists have seized on the opportunity to call for it to be banned permanently.

PETA offers cash to ban Pamplona’s famous running of the bulls forever
A shot from the encierro on July 7th 2019. Photo: AFP

PETA are writing to the mayor of Pamplona with the offer of €298,000 if the Navarran city ceases the use of bulls during their fiesta altogether.

“People around the world, including in Spain, say it’s past time the torment and slaughter of animals for human entertainment were stopped,” says PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk in her appeal to Pamplona mayor, Enrique Maya.

“Now is the moment to be on the right side of history. We hope you will accept our offer and allow Pamplona to reinvent itself for the enjoyment of all.”

Each morning during the eight day festival of San Fermin in Pamplona, which bursts into celebration at midday on July 6th, six fighting bulls and six steers are released to run through the narrow streets of the old town to the bullring where the bulls are killed in the evening corridas.

Hundreds run alongside the animals in the morning dash which often results in gorings, and injuries from being stomped on after runners lose their footing in the crowds.

The festival, which was made world famous by Ernest Hemingway, who set his 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises” during San Fermin, attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to the party each year.

The festival, which sees Pamplona’s population swell from just under 200,000 to more than a million, is estimated to bring an annual boost of €74 million to Pamplona businesses, according to an association of fighting bull breeders.

PETA’s offer is the latest in a long campaign to ban what it calls “Pamplona’s annual bloodbath”.

Together with Spanish groupAnimaNaturalis, the activists stage peaceful protests ahead of the start of the festival year.

The city’s former mayor, Joseba Asirón, supported the protests, describing them as “fair and honest”.

Speaking to reporters about the groups’ calls to remove bull runs from the festival, he said, “[T]his is a debate that sooner or later we will have to put on the table. For a very simple reason, and that is that basing the festival on the suffering of a living being, in the 21st century, is something that, at best, we have to rethink.”

Since the pandemic began festivals across Spain have been cancelled but corridas were allowed last summer with limited occupancy and with social distancing and Covid-19 measures in place.

But although Spain’s bullfighting lobby is strong, there is a general trend away from it.

In a poll published in 2019 by online newspaper El Español, over 56 percent of Spaniards said they were against bullfighting, while only 24.7 were in favour. Some 18.9 percent said they were indifferent.

Support was significantly higher among conservative voters, it showed.