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The Tradition, Thrill, and Risks of Pamplona’s Bullfighting Festival




Tens of thousands of eager participants and spectators congregated in the town square of the northern Spanish city of Pamplona for the traditional San Fermín bull-running festival. Known for its adrenaline-filled spectacle of bull runs and cultural entertainment, this event has been a highlight of Spanish culture since the late 17th Century.

History and Celebration

Originating from medieval times, the San Fermín festival was made famous by Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises.” The festival is known for its colorful celebration, where participants dress in traditional white shirts and trousers, complemented by a red sash and neckerchief. Each day is filled with eating, drinking, dancing, and cultural entertainment, encapsulating the essence of Spanish festivity and culture. The festival begins with the “chupinazo,” a firework blast that signals the start of the nine-day event. The highlight of the festival is the early morning bull runs, or “encierros.” The rest of the day is dedicated to cultural entertainment, dining, and socializing.

Opening the Festival: The Chupinazo

The festival begins with the celebratory “chupinazo” firework, where attendees douse each other in red or sparkling wine. The heart of the festival is the daily “encierros,” or bull runs, a thrilling event where thousands dodge six charging bulls along a winding cobblestoned route to the city’s bullring.

The Bull Runs: Danger and Adrenaline

Arguably the most exhilarating aspect of the festival is the morning bull runs. During these runs, six bulls charge through the narrow cobbled streets of Pamplona, with brave runners darting ahead of the animals before veering to safety at the last moment. There are eight encierros throughout the festival. Access to the run route closes at 7:30 a.m., with the encierro starting at 8 a.m. The bull run duration typically ranges from two to two and a half minutes. On the first day of this year’s festival, six people were taken to hospital with injuries to their faces or limbs, according to Red Cross spokesman Jose Aldaba. However, Aldaba noted that none of the injuries appeared serious, deeming it a relatively “clean” run considering the inherent risk. Despite the potential dangers, participation remains high. Runners must be mindful of their surroundings, and many use a rolled-up newspaper to distract a bull that gets separated from the pack. This poses the greatest danger, as an isolated bull can become frightened and unpredictable.

Visitor Attraction and Tourism

As one of the most popular bullfighting festivals, San Fermín attracts tourists from all parts of Spain and abroad. The official tour guide group, Destino Navarra, reported that 70% of the total bookings this year were from people in the US and Canada. Last year, following a two-year break due to the pandemic, nearly 1.7 million people visited Pamplona. With all COVID-19 restrictions now lifted, the festival is expected to draw an even larger crowd this year. Celebrations start at noon on 6 July and continue for a week. In 2022, 1.7 million people attended the festival. With the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, an increased number of visitors is expected in 2023.

Bullfighting and Controversy

The festival is not without controversy. Each afternoon, the bulls involved in the run are killed by professional matadors in bullfights. Animal rights activists regularly criticize this practice, citing it as cruelty to the animals involved. However, despite these criticisms, bullfighting and the running of the bulls remain integral parts of the festival and continue to attract significant numbers of domestic and international tourists.

Safety Measures and Advice

Precautions and Suggestions Even with the inherent dangers linked to the festival, it is remarkably well-coordinated with significant safety precautions in place. Emergency medical aid is readily accessible to attend to any harm sustained. Festival-goers are implored not to sprint carrying anything that could potentially be dangerous, and those who take a tumble are guided to remain flat on the surface while shielding their heads until the bulls have moved ahead. For comprehensive data on security protocols and involvement in San Fermín, visit the official Spain tourism website.


Pamplona’s San Fermín festival uniquely blends tradition, thrill, and controversy. Whether it’s the dangerous allure of the bull runs, the vibrant cultural celebrations, or the iconic uniform of red and white, the festival continues to draw crowds from around the globe year after year, firmly securing its place in Spain’s rich cultural tapestry.