San Fermin Festival 2012 opening
Pamplona's 7-day festival of Sanfermines, with its traditional running of the bulls, began today at noon as Councillor Iñak Cabases shot a rocket off the town hall balcony overlooking the square
packed with cheering citizens waving red handkerchiefs.
For the next 7 days, the capital of Navarre in Northern Spain will be the epicenter of the festivities in honor of Saint Fermin. These famously involve a daily running of the bulls, in which the animals are made to gallop along an 800-metre stretch of enclosed city streets, while any person over 18 is free to tempt fate by jumping into the encierro, or enclosed space, and to run ahead of them.
Some say the origins of this practice, which Ernest Hemingway immortalized in The Sun Also Rises, lie in the 14th century, when farmers taking livestock to market would frighten them into a gallop to hurry them into the pens, a process which led to the men showing off their bravado by running ahead of the animals. Then as now, this feat of daring tends to cause some collateral damage, as when a 655-kilo bull named Cachero gored a man's leg in 2010. For those faint of heart, the Pamplona Museum of the Encierro, located in the historic city centre, provides a virtual simulator of the bull run, in which visitors can experience the thrill without risking life or limb.
This year's Sanfermines festival also involves the riau-riau, a traditional march in which citizens accompany city councilmembers to the Church of San Lorenzo, and which had been suspended in 1996 because it had turned into a habitual demonstration against city authorities. But the festival is not just about running with bulls, drinking to oblivion, and marching, as citizens and visitors will be treated to 431 activities including concerts, children's shows, sporting events, bull fights, and the also traditional fireworks competition.