Spain - Pamplona - San Fermin Festival

by Kimp 20. July 2015 11:54

Photo Blog (Click to View)

My Arrival

Two countries I never tire of, are Spain and Switzerland. Each foray always brings me more joy then the last.

Pamplona is so extensive, it took me a long time to write this up.

It is probably best to go to Pamplona via train from a nearby larger city, but I decided to fly in, because I didn't want to waste the time in transit. Since Pamplona has a very small airport without much infrastructure, I had a driver pick me up at the airport. He was about my age and dressed in a great looking suit. He had lived in Pamplona his whole life, was nice and seemed to be well educated, but most of what he told me about Pamplona's history wasn't even close to the real story. I didn't bother to correct him, I just thanked him for the information with a sincere smile. 

San Fermin ( The Band )

This was a last second trip plan for me, which is a departure from my norm. I was listening to some tracks from one of my most favorite new groups. A refreshing chamber-pop group from New York City named San Fermin, whose inventive composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone has turned pop music into something very colorful, full of twists, turns, and embellishments that keep it moving and interesting. Attracting very talented musicians; Male vocalist Allen Tate has a beautiful baritone voice seldom heard in pop, combined with the vocal talents of the female cast, they produce operatic sounds that tell a great story, in a glamorous new way. Add in good lyrics, a rhythm section well versed in complex content, a violinist, and two very talented horn players, creates a both big and small sounds that are sure to move the world in new directions. Tightly blended and intermixed, it sounds both old and new at the same time. True artists in every sense of the word, the musician in me, thoroughly enjoys everything they have created and looks forward to see what they are going to offer in the future..

That joy prompted me to decide to visit the San Fermin festival this year, in Pamplona Spain, on less then a months notice. 

When I was in the stands at the Bull ring, there were lots of marching band in attendance as well. There are marching band competitions throughout the festival and it is common to encounter them marching and playing on the way to the stadium as well.

They all play different tunes at the same time. To me it sounded a lot like a Charles Ives composition. Charles Ives was a famous American classical composer. His father was a marching band and choir director, and his father would often invite march bands to his town, marching them in from different parts of town, until they all meet in the center. They would all play different tunes. This inspired Charles to write some very interesting classical compositions, that are still played by symphonies today. Usually during a show dedicated to modern symphonic music.

Chasing Red

I was lucky enough to get to spend a short amount of time with Dennis Clancey. In my opinion, Dennis has too many positive attributes to list, for most part he is an intelligent and athletic dude from Arizona, with movie star looks and a passion for running with the bulls, who has been visiting Pamplona, and has run with the bulls, every festival day for the last ten years (about 90 runs). His feature length documentary, entitled Chasing Red, won the "Best of the Fest" Grand Prize at the 2015 LA Indie film festival.

Dennis teaches new runners in addition to performing the play by play commentary for one of the American Cable channels. He was also featured on one of the Spanish channels, that broadcast a daily 90 minute special covering the run on every day of the festival.

He told me that he also runs in other festivals, but Pamplona is the best organized one he has been at. He was telling me about one place, there they release the bulls in an open area and let them run with dudes on horseback chasing them, before guiding them into town. The people who are waiting to run have no clue when they are going to arrive. Could be an hour or four hours later. One year the horseback riders lost the pack and they had to release another bunch for the town run. The next day, people were calling in reports of seeing bulls in or near their villages.

Running with the Bulls

My first running with the bulls experience was in the cow pasture directly behind my childhood house in Ohio, and adjacent to my back yard. It was a nice relatively flat area devoid of trees that was a great place for launching model rockets and for riding a bike through open rough terrain as fast as I could, as well as many other things that delighted me when I was young. Most of the time it was either empty or it only had cows in it. Every once in a while the farmer would put one of his bulls in that pasture to impregnate the cows, but I never knew when that would be. I would not find out, until I was walking through the pasture. His bull had large rings through their nose and a chain hanging down. The purpose of that was to prevent the bull from charging, cause it would hurt his nose, however, he didn't seem to mind the pain when I was near. I quickly learned to freeze, then slowly back up facing him until he calm down, then turn and run away as fast as I could, until I got a fence between us. Even the fence was not really enough, cause there were times when the fence was between us and it still looked like he wanted to charge.

Another personal occurrence I had, was when my life long best friend, Jim and I, were working on a large cattle ranch in Nebraska. We were about 1/2 of a mile (1km) from a pasture that had a single bull in it. Between us were two fences, one near us and one near the bull. The very large Herford bull (the owner's prize winning stud) saw us and was making warning calls, staking out his territory. Jim thought it was funny to imitate the calls cause it infuriated the bull. We were both laughing hysterically, until that bull backed up a few feet, then jumped the fence in stride like it was nothing, and started running towards us at a very fast pace.

All of a sudden that wasn't funny anymore. So we scurried to find the ranch owner and let him know, he had a problem that he needed to solve, cause these two boys sure weren't going to do anything about it. The owner says to use quizzingly, "Are you sure, I wonder what would have made him jump that fence. He's never jumped that fence before!" Jim and I in unison, "Gee, I don't have a clue, but we saw him jump it. Yep he sure did !". After a second of pause he comes up with a solution, "Well then I need you two boys to go and open that fence gate, so he goes back in." Jim and I in unison again, "Gee I don't know, that sounds dangerous.". Confidently he replies "No, just open the gate, he'll wander right back in, and then shut it after he goes in.", like it was really simple and easy. 

So Jim and I jump into the old brown farm truck and headed out to complete that easy task.

A funny story about that truck. The owner's eldest son was also named Jim. A few years before, Jim was driving that truck through the fields shooting at rattle snakes in the fields with a pistol while on the run. He had hit a bump while shooting one once and blew a hole in the front fender of the truck. 

Back to the bull story. So we get up to the fence and the bull is kind of close to the gate. I say to Jim (my best friend), "Ok, you jump out and open the gate, and I'll entice him with the truck to go through the gate, then you shut the gate behind him." Sound like a great plan to me, but Jim being one on one with bull didn't sound like a good plan to him. "The bulls to close to the gate. I ain't getting out here. Lets move him farther away.". It took me several minutes to convince him that it was a good plan and he surely wasn't in any danger.

Jim reluctantly gets out and very slowly and cautiously goes over and opens the gate. It was just a wire gate, so it was easy for Jim to keep his distance from the bull and pull the gate back to the side of the truck. I then reved the engine and started to inch the truck forward with the bull directly in front of the grill, figuring he was sure to he scared of the large truck. But that bull had been around several trucks before and he knew they weren't a threat before.  His just stood his ground and fixed his eyes on Jim. I think he finally figured out that Jim was the one making the calls and he charged him. Jim scaled that barbed wire fence like it was a low hurdle. With the fence in between, the bull finely entered the pen, causing Jim to scurry back over the fence and quickly shut the door.

In the end, it was easy, just like Garth said it would be. Jim, is such a good friend, he soon forgave me for making such a stupid plan and talking him into it. I still laugh about that, but I don't think Jim has learned to share those laughs with me, yet.

Having had personal experience as a youngster, I had no intention of running with the bulls in Pamplona. I merely came as a spectator.

When the Roman's took control of Spain around 200 B.C., bulls ran free and unabated throughout the Iberian Peninsula.  The Roman's, who often included man against animal competition's in their coliseum sporting activities, naturally started using bulls in Spain.

The Roman empire fell, but bull fighting, which was enjoyed throughout Spain, survived. In medieval times, religious festivals and royal wedding were times when noblemen and knights would compete for favor with the ruling elite. Fighting of bulls on horseback, in the town square was one of those events.

After medieval times, in the 1720's, people started fighting bulls on foot (normal people could not afford horses in those times), it attracted large crowds and it became a Spanish tradition. Eventually bull rings were built inside of Spanish cities, and to get the bull's to the ring, they would be brought in from ranches to a pen just outside of town. Then early in the morning, the ranchers would run the bulls through the town streets to get them into the pens in the arena.

In the 1500's someone in Spain decided to prove his bravery by running with the bulls through the city. The trend continued. The earliest recorded mention of running with the bulls in Pamplona was in the 1590's.

In 1925, Ernest Hemmingway was visiting Spain to gather material for a new novel. He decided to write a novel about a bunch of dudes bored with rundown Paris life, who decided to visit Pamplona Spain, for the excitement of the San Fermin Festival. That novel is titled "The Sun Also Rises".  Ever since then it has grown to about 1,000,000 people every year, following a similar path. Hemingway's last trip to Pamplona was in 1959, when he publically apologized for turning an intimate local event, into the whirlwind blowout party that it had morphed into.

I like the title "Sun Also Rises", it means that when the sun goes down on your life, some day it will also rise on your life. That kind of has a strong religious parallel to it.

I took a different perspective. My quest was to find something morale in an immoral world. And I found many moral behaviors to enjoy even during the San Fermin Festival.

At its purist, The "running with the bulls" was one of those. While the festival is a massive 9 day and night long, extremely loud party with lots drinking and sometimes wild, energy releasing events. The "Running with the Bulls" is a very controlled athletic competition. Due to it's dangerous nature, the police make a valiant attempt to keep anyone who shows the slightest inebriation, from partaking in the experience. I observed, several measures in place, to keep is as safe as possible.

Some background on these bulls. I saw the bulls from the world famous Don Eduardo Muira Ranch. Publicized by many as the most fierce and aggressive of bulls of any of the hundreds of Spanish ranches. They weigh in, at about 1300 pounds (590 kg) and run a 4 minute mile while dodging lots of obstacles in their path. in contrast, the most elite human milers, often run slower then these bulls in an unabated path. Muira's are the only pure breed bulls that have a blood line that goes back to the times when the Moor's brought bull's up from Africa. Another highly respected ranch is Martin Andres, his bulls have an attractive purplish tint to them and their horns have more up turn.

At the ranch, these bulls are roaming with steer who wear cow bells, so they are very used to having them around. Even if the steers aren't close, the cow bell sounds makes the bull feel like he has friendly company that is nearby. Bulls are herding animal's, in the wild, they run and hangout in herds, and they feel safe while in the herd.

Ferruccio Lamborghini was such a fan of bull fighting that he named an entire Lamborghini after the Muira. That is also why the Lamborghini icon is a bull about to charge.

The path from the outer pen in Pamplona, to the bull ring is only about 1/2 mile, but parts of it are up a relatively steep incline, parts of it are slippery, parts of it are fairly narrow, and the Muira's I watched, ran it in 2:09 .

Each day of the festival a different ranch provide bulls for this event. Pamplona is so publicized, that bull ranches pick the best of their best bulls for this festival. These bulls are not your average ordinary bull, they are special in every detail. Many bulls are breed and raised that don't make it to the bull fight, they're aggression and stamina tested with horses, and only the biggest and badest troublemakers are selected for bull fights.  

These bulls are free range animals used to being away from people and people induced structures. They are used to quite and peaceful natural environments. When are brought to Pamplona in very tight crates via transport. They spend a night in a crowded pen a short distance from the City, then another night in a small pen just outside of the old town. The festival is going on and it is rock concert loud all night long. When the pen's door's are open, they are ready to bust out and run, in a quest, to get back to nature. They are allowed to run unabated for about 100 yds (100 m), before weaving through the thick mass of people who have assembled for the run. Most people instinctively give them respect and a little room, which open's air gaps for them to instinctively run towards.

By nature, Bulls are prey and not prone to attack unless threatened. They are herding animals and feel the most comfortable, in numbers,  when running with the herd. They usually only get aggressive when separated from the herd or something impedes their forward travel. One of the safety measures, is to attempt to keep the bulls together and running in a forward direction.They also run steer's with the bulls. Steers have been castrated at a very early age and are much mellower then the average bull. Many run slower and the ranchers raise them under the same conditions. The ranchers put cow bells on the steer's to get the bull's used to feeling like they are in a herd, just by hearing that clanging sound.

As a safety measure the run includes several steer's along with the bull's It is easy to visually pick out the steer's, because the one's they pick for the run are very white and the bulls are very black. Since some steers run slower, then bring up the rear to pick up and help calm a bull that has been separated from the herd.

When a bull gets separated from the herd, it is going to attack anything that is sees as an immediate threat. It isn't really attacking, it just want's people to go away and leave it along. The best thing to do, is move away, not approach, and if you are close, get under a barrier as quickly as possible. Do not climb over a barrier, cause getting above, is perceived by the bull, as a direct threat. The police will be on the other side of the barrier to help pull you through.

In the area's that are not bounded by buildings, they build two sets of fences with a non-pedestrian gap in between. This gap is filled with police and medical staff. Both are there to help.

Another safety measure is the placement of "Pastores". Experienced dude's in green shirts who have worked bull ranches for years. They are used to working with bulls, and are there to get the bull's (separated or in the herd), moving to the bull ring as quickly as possible. Stay out of their way and let the expert's do what they do best.

The bulls are used to jumping over obstacles in the wild, so jumping a person that is lying on the ground isn't very difficult. However, occasionally they will tick or step on a downed limb. Better to be stepped on then gored with a horn.

I believe that many of the injuries do not have anything to do with the bulls. Those are cobblestone's people are running on, and falling on them, is going to hurt a knee, a wrist, spine, or head. Many of the people are running in panic mode, where pushing and shoving come out of the blue.

There are so many people, and the bulls are lower then many people, so seeing them before they get very close is unlikely. What I have observed is three waves of people. People expect the bulls are coming so they start to move at a precautionary slow jog. Eventually the people who are closer to the bull start catching them in a hurry, so they start running kind of fast, but the people in front of the bull, trained elite sprinter's who are still catching up with them quick. So they panic and run as fast as they can and also try to get out of the way. But not all of them get out of the way.

This creates a slight air bubble and several fallen bodies, several feet in front of the bulls, for the elite runner's to get a chance to complete the task they have devoted a lot of time to.

The sad thing for me, was that there are many non-athletes without much of a clue partaking in this event. It is kind of like watching a professional sport, where anyone were allowed on the field. Imagine your favorite wide receiver, just about to make a terrific catch in the super bowl, and a spectator runs out of the crowd, breaks up the play, and injures the wide receiver so he is out for the rest of the bowl. I see a lot of that, and sometimes the passionate and dedicated athlete's do pay the price with an injury.

The best athlete's try to get right in front of the lead bull and run in front of it for as long as possible before making a dramatic exit just at the bull catch's up with them. Besides trying to keep track of the bull that is about to run them down, they have to look forward for people who have tripped and fallen, slow running people in front of them, and people who are relatively stationary and sort of out of the way until they panic. It is like 30 seconds of quick decisions, where every decision might result in injury.

The dedicated dude's spend an entire year preparing for this. They study, do their homework and prepare. And they all have injury stories. In my opinion, that is what the watching fan's come to see. Spectator's don't come to see an unknown get gored or trampled. There just isn't any glamor in that.

In my opinion, Pamplona should have some kind of minimum set of qualification's a person should have, to participate in running with the bulls. A person should have to qualify and present a card to enter into the competition.

After the event, the runners go to a bar and get a drink with chocolate and cognac. The cognac region of France is very close, so that is the local hard liquor of choice. It is made from fermented and distilled grapes, and chocolate goes well with it. It is really funny to go to the bars after the event and listen to the stories. One dude will telling about how close he got to the bulls and his friend will be saying, "Dude, I got picture of your scared a$$, and it wasn't even close". Or better yet, "Hey man, did you see me right in front of that bull?", his friend produces a picture and an overseer says, "You mean that one? Dude, that wasn't a bull, that was one of the lame steers !!!"

This Is a good run without any deeply troubling video: Bull run that I observed posed to you tube At about 48 second's, you will see a dude in a black shirt and white pant's near the center of the picture, maneuvering in to get right in front of the bulls. That's "Dennis Clancey" (in his words, this is the area he usually runs in). At about 53 seconds you will a great picture of him coming into "La Curva" (See photo blog for what La Curva is) with the lead bull right behind him. At this point, the air bubble near the bulls opens up, because most people don't loiter in that area. At 54 seconds, Dennis is only one of his strides in front. The bulls follow Dennis's lead on the inside of the corner. He lead them right around La Curva. Dennis then makes a quick and prudent exit just after La Curva, when he hits an unsuspecting crowd of people. Afterwards, Dennis told me the bulls almost never cut the corner, they usually swing wide. I believe they followed him. At about 59 seconds, you will see a dude in a red and white stripped shirt. Another expert runner in my opinion, look at my photo blog for more about him. Then at about 1:02 you will see a dude in a blue shirt with white strips down the shoulders. Another expert runner detailed in my photo blog. At 1:27, you will see what happens when a steer or bulls running with the herd catches up with you. At 1:52 the bulls hit what I call the funnel. It's near the bull ring and people always get hit there as the space gets tighter and tighter. At 1:56 they hit the door and people always get in trouble there as well. At 2:09 it's all over.

The serious injury's usually happen when a bull gets separated, or a pileup happens at the bull ring entrance and the bulls can't jump high enough to get over the 5 people high, who sometimes stack up there.

Many people sit in the stadium (you can see on the you tube that it is packed) and watch the run. It is free and it is broadcast live via a large TV screen. Some sit near the door and bring eggs to throw at the people who enter the bull ring to quickly. Some runners, go into the bull ring just after the starting rocket is fired, several minutes before any bulls arrive. That are seen as cowards and rewarded as such.

After the bulls enter the holding pen in the ring, a young bull (1 yr old), with protective safety caps over it's horns is let out in the ring. It charges at people, and knock's them over. This is seen as fun by some people and as entertainment by the crowd.

There is a lot more about the running with the bulls in my photo blog.

San Fermin Festival

San Fermin was the first Bishop of Pamplona around 300 AD. While on a mission trip to spread the word in Northern France, he baptize as many people as he could along the way. He was arrested for performing the baptism's, and beheaded, as punishment for his crime.

There are two San Fermin festival's in Pamplona every year. The one I am writing about always starts at noon on July 6th, and end's at midnight on July 14th. Basically that is nine day's because the party doesn't end at midnight. The other festival, San Fermin Txikito is mostly a local event consisting of food competitions, parades, and lots of music, but without the running of the bulls nor the bull fight's. That is always centered around a mass that is held on September 25 at a small church was has been erected over the birthplace of San Fermin in Pamplona.

The July Festival, which is the only time Bull Fight's occur in Pamplona, has always been in July, but the original celebration of San Fermin used to be held in October, until 1591 when it was moved to overlap the July Festival, because the weather was much better in July.

The opening ceremony at noon on July 6th called the Chupinazo where a person hand picked my the Mayor lights the rocket that signal's that start of the festival. The square in front of City Hall where the Chupinazo (rocket) is lit, is packed with people at about 5 per square yd (1 sq m). Which is like fitting 5 people into an old time phone booth. People do not wear the red neckerchief until the festival start's so it is usually wrapped around their wrist. Someone yells, "Viva San Fermín, Gora San Fermín", the rocket is lit, and then all hell breaks loose. People, start drenching each other with wine. The normal festival drink is 1/2 wine mixed with 1/2 coke-a-cola and that flies everywhere. People then tie the neckerchief around their neck the big party commences. 

For the most part. The festival is a drink fest with people in the traditional dress of all white, adorned with a red neckerchief and red sash around their waist. Dude to the drink, a lot of loud things are happening concurrently much of the time day and night, however, there are several non drink related activities that occur every day:

There is lots of shopping, and about a zillion Nigerians peddling souvenirs, sun glasses, and hats. The police seem to allow it, sol maybe they have permits, but to me it looks like they all sleep on the street, probably don't pay an taxes in Spain, and they get in the way in high traffic areas. I don't have a problem with someone trying to earn a living, but it gets a little frustrating to me around 1400 (2 P.M.), when it is the hottest part of the day and I am looking for some shade to get out of the heat. All of the shade seems to be consumed by Nigerians sleeping while most of the people are resting in door. It would be nice if the city reserved a small shaded area for "Light skinned brothers" on every block.

Marching bands are often heard during the day and night. The march and play all over the place. Sometimes during their down time, they start playing Dixieland. I thought that was great, until I woke up at 3 A.M. to the sound of a band playing nearby my room. I had decided to stay in a hotel room inside of the old town, but very near the wall and a bit out of the way of the festival. I thought that might not be too loud. But, there is no quite zone inside of the old town walls during the festival. It is very loud all night.

Years ago, there was an attempt to bring some somber religion into the festival, when public officials would parade with other characters from City Hall to the small San Fermin chapel on the out skirts of the old town. But that was cancelled due to constant bombardment by political activists, who don't respect somberness.

"El Struendo", or the roar, isn't advertised officially, but it is a one time event that occur's on a different day each year, where people gather at the square in front of town hall at  2359 (11:59 P.M.) and make as much noise as they can for several hours. They bring drums, whistles, and all kinds of noise makers. I am not sure they can beat the normal nightly noise level. As I said above, it is very loud all night long inside of the old town walls.

The procession occurs on July 7th. The small San Fermin statue is paraded through the street with other carnival figures and traditional Jota dancers, to the San Cernin well, where San Fermin was baptized by San Cernin and a rose is dropped in.

The daily parade, with large carnival figures and big heads. This is outlined in my photo blog.

Running of the bulls is always at 8:00 A.M. on the button. Outlined above and in my photo blog.

Bull Fight everyday starting at 6 P.M. Outlined below and in my photo blog.

Fireworks, every night at 11:00 P.M. over the citadel (Spanish Fort), outlined in my photo blog.

The "Pobre de Mi", or the poor me, closing ceremony on July 14th at midnight in front of city hall. This is outlined in my photo blog as well.

More of my San Fermin experiences

I went to the performing arts center for a nice dinner of Navarra cuisine prepared by a noted Navarra chef. It all started with a small gathering, where Champaign was presented, in an ambience of live Traditional Spanish Guitar. 30 minutes later we sat around a large table and were presented with a very tasty meal. I meet so many people there it is difficult to remember them all. To do remember many people asking me if I would like a glass of their wine, how could I turn that down. It was like a never ending wine stream. Navarra is the Spanish wine country and I felt the need to get as many tasting's in as I could.

Some of the people I meet:

A mid 30's couple from Mexico. I was easy to pick their Mexican style out of this crowd. I asked them where they were from? The women said, "Mexico!!!". "Were at in Mexico?", her reply was "We live in San Diego". humph, I must have missed the big announcement when Mexico had annexed San Diego.

A dude about my age from Virginia Beach who was there with his son. His single son had meet a women there, so his dad got stranded. He and I got along very well, and traded a lot of laughs.

A beautiful woman from Pisa Italy. I mentioned to her that I was going to be visiting Pisa in the near future and she said, "Why don't you come to my cousin's weeding. A huge family gathering and grandma's doing all of the cooking.". It was grandma's cooking that hooked me, so I took down her contact information on a napkin, since I was cell phoneless at that time.

A couple from Brisbane Australia. They were spending 3 months touring Europe (It is winter in Australia in July). The male had been to Spain when he was young, and he had such a good time, he wanted to bring his wife here. They didn't have a lot of plans, they were kind of making it up as they went. He said they were headed to Santiago de Compestela Spain, then down into Portugal next. A very nice long time married couple.

A couple from New Zealand. I've wanted to visit New Zealand for a long time. Many years ago, I wrote lots of magazine articles for a technical publication, and one of my publishers just picked up and moved to New Zealand, so I had heard a lot about it. However, we mostly talked about Dubai. He was an engineer who worked in Dubai for a several years and his wife had gone along as well. I asked her how it was, being a Christen female and living in a Muslim country. She said that 80% of Dubai are christen foreigner's, so she never really saw many Muslim's. Everywhere she went and shopped, it was mostly other christen women. I said, "That sounds like trying to find a southerner in Atlanta Georgia or an American in Miami Florida.".

After I probably had about 2 bottles of wine in me, I meet a couple about my age from North Carolina, and the dude told me he was running with the bulls the next morning. Definitely not an athlete, so I told him, "dude, don't even think about doing that.". He say's, "But that's been on my bucket list for years.". I said "If there is anything else on your bucket list, then move that after everything else, cause might end it all". Concerned that he was going to go through with it, and didn't know much about the race, I turned the napkin with the Pisa info over and drew out a crude diagram of the run route. Tell, him where I thought the safest places for a novice were, how fast it was, and warning him of the panic that ensues neat the action. I didn't realize until the next day, when I was looking for the Pisa info, that I must have given him that napkin. He saw me after the event the next day and said after we talked he didn't get much sleep cause he worried all night and that the bulls just ran right past were he was. He said he wasn't that close to the action, but it was still freaky. I asked him if he still had the napkin and he had thrown it away somewhere. Oh well, that was just going to get me in trouble anyway. I might have gone there, fallen deeply in love, only to end up spending all of my time blissfully with her, never to heard from outside of that relationship again. There must have been a good reason for God wanting me to lose that contact information.

I must have meet several more people that night, cause I was running into people the rest of the time I was there, that seemed to know me by name and I didn't have a clue they were. People waving and saying "Hey, Craig, good to see you again!!!"

After the dinner, we went to the roof top of the performing arts center to watch the fireworks. That was a very good vantage point, not crowded, had chairs and the weather was perfect. That was a great time.

I saw the parade, the running of the bulls, a bull fight, and the closing ceremony. All detail elsewhere here and in my photo blog.

Would I go again? I'm not sure, that is uncharacteristic of me, but I would like to come back in September 25th some time to see the little San Fermin festival and some of the other sights in town.

Bull Fighting

I posted quite a bit in my photo blog about the bull fight (without showing any gory photos of the bull ), so I won't iterate most of that here.

Bulls are very intelligent. The bulls are not domesticated and are raise more or less in the wild on large ganadería (ranches) without many boundaries. It is against the law for a bull to interact with a human (other then a trained ranch attendant) prior to the fight, because bulls would figure out what is going on, remember, and attack the human during the bull fight. Each ganadería names and numbers them when they are born and they keep extensive records on them. Sometimes a bulls characteristic's gives away which ganadería they are from. Fighting bulls must be at least 4 years old and within certain weight restrictions.

When the bull enters the ring, it usually has colored streamers attached to its back. These are the colors of the ganadería it came from.

Hemingway once said that Muira bulls are so smart, they sometime figure out what is going on in the ring and attack the matador. I watched a Muira fight and saw the matador drop his capote. The bull was stomping on it and it looked like the bull was figuring out that wavy thing is really nothing. The matador practically dived under the bull to retrieve the capote before the bull figured it out.

Not all Bull fighting results in killing the bull, but Spain's usually do. Bull fighting in Spain has declined quite a bit over the years, there are area's of Spain were bull fighting is prohibited, and in most others is it restricted only to certain festival days. The Spanish government used to promote it as a symbol of Spain, but they quit doing that, and they no longer allow it to be a part of Spain's patriotic symbolism.

The modern bull fighting format was created in 1726 by matador Francisco Romero who attracted large crowds. The modern style of which there are many variations, are attributed to Juan Belmonte around 1920, who is considered by many as the greatest of all time.

The moves that matadors make are named, just like dance moves. They are well known by aficionado's, who rank matador's based on how well they perform them, which also includes the crowd reaction and how close the bulls gets to the human, to a well performed maneuvers.

In a single day, there are six bull fight's. The traditional format is 3 matador's each fighting two bulls, but there are also formats where 2 fight 3 each and where 1 fights all six. Each fight lasts around 20 minutes and is overseen and directed by the Presidente of the Bull Ring. There are actually 8 bulls ordered for each fight, the two extra are in case the Presedente doesn't approve of a bull, due to it either being not ferocious enough, or if he believes that is has been tampered with and is too dangerous to the humans.

Sometime bulls jump the smaller inner arena fence and get into the area between that and the stands, which is reserved for attendants. This draws a lot of crowd excitement and many spectator's near the rails actually try to entice that. Sounds foolish to me, but it happens.

Before the fight there is a short ceremony where the bulls are paired up. Each matador could attend, but they usually send a representative to this meeting. At this point they just talk about pairing. The idea is to pair a weak with a strong based on the assessors feelings. Once that is negotiated, the pairs are put into a hat and each matador draws for the pair he is going to fight.

After that the bulls are separated, a processes that is quite complex, but must be timely. They are put into individual pens that are very small before the fight. Now they are alone and quite constrained.

The beginning of the fight there is a small parade of the fight cast and supporting crew. This is best seen in my photo blog.

Each matador has a team of attendants collectively known as a cuadrilla. The cuadrilla consists of the matador, three banderilleros and two picadors.

The fight has three phase and only lasts about 20 minutes. More then that is dangerous, because as the bull is fighting it is learning.

In the first phase the bull is presented to the audience. It allows the matador and bandelleros to train the bull to chase the capote, which in this phase is a large one, magenta on one side and yellow on the other. It allows the matador to study the bulls fighting tendencies and form a plan. A bull has never seen a capote before, but it has been people. In its life the people we nuisances, but never threats. It is not really threatened by people, but there is this large wavy thing it has never seen that appears to be making an aggressive move towards it. The bull is on its own and feeling threatened, it is going to try to push that large object away. Therefor, it chases the cape and not the human.

After a while the matador requests the picador's to enter. This starts the last part of the first phase.

The picador is on a protected horse. The picadors job is to weaken the neck of the bull, so it's head is lower to the grown allowing the matador to get over its horns to kill it in the final stage.

After the picador, the second phase is entered.

In this phase, the bandelleros's jab short barbed poles into the bulls neck to make it angry. Sometimes the matador performs this act as well. It looks more dangerous then it is. It is a matter of correct angle and timing. Just like a dance maneuver. Bulls can't turn quickly, because they are low to the ground and their heavy weight keeps them moving forward. With the right angle and a quick side step, the bull doesn't stand a chance of hitting the bandellero in this phase.

The third phase is mono-e-mono, bull and matador. The matador will change his large cape for a much smaller red one, and also grab a sword. The first sword is usually just for show and is much lighter then the final one. The matador will make some more dance move passes and after the bull is worn down, he will request to kill it. At this point, the Presedente can pardon the bull, if he feels it has been very valiant. If the kill is granted, the matador changes to the heavy sword and makes the very daring move to get the sword over the horn and through the shoulder blades into the heart. This is the most dangerous part for the matador and it happens lightening quick.

Once struck through the heart, the bull dies fairly quickly. If not, once it hits the ground a bandellero used a smaller blunt sword to sever it's spinal cord killing it instantly.

The crews swiftly removes the bull to the back of the rink where it is butchered and the meat is sold.

I will not support any more bull fights with my money, that one was enough for me. However, the ticket I bought was already sold, as most tickets are purchased by season ticket holder's, who resell the fights they do not want to attend. 

Pamplona Today and History

Pamplona is way more then just the San Fermin Festival. I believe that it would be a great place to visit outside of the festival as well. Lots of history and good people are in Pamplona.

Pamplona is in North Eastern Spain and is the capital of the Navarra region of Spain. It has one of Spain's highest standard's of living and is high on the quality of life scale as well. It's been one of Spain's major industrial cities since the 1950's. Spain refused to allow imported automobiles into their country, so British Leyland collaborated with a Spainish company to form the Authi brand in Pamplona, which built car's nearly identical to the Mini and other British auto's, for distribution through out Spain. When British Leyland ran out of money in 1976, it was sold to SEAT (another Spanish Auto Company. SEAT eventually solid it to Volkswagen. Today they make the VW Polo and parts for the Spanish Luxury Sports Car company, Tauro ( mostly hand made sports car line). 

Pamplona has a sweet and rich history as a military settlement. 

Around 100 B.C., Quintus Sertorius, a Roman, had taken control of Hispania (Spain) from the Roman's, for his own. Ceasar sent Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey) to get it back under the Roman senates control. Pompey built a strong military settlement in Pamplona, which he named Pampelo, for the Roman Army. Both General's were very evenly matched in skill's, but Pompey had more resources, so he won the war by attrition.

During the Roman rule, the Apostle James made his way from Israel, eventually settling in Santiago de Compostela (North Western Spain). Ever since then, the most traveled route from the rest of Europe to Santiago de Compostela goes through Pamplona. For two thousands of years, Christians have been walking the "Camino de Santiago" (way of St James) foot trail and staying in Pamplona along the way. This has continuously brought culture and prosperity to this town. 

After the Roman empire fell, Germanic tribes took control of Pamplona renaming it Victoriacom. About 400 years later a civil war started in Spain, which allowed the Islamic Moors to move in from Africa and conquer nearly all of Spain. 

Pamplona being near the Frankish/Moorish border, changed hands several times as the two forces battled each other over and over.

Around 1000, the Moors were pushed out, and many traveling Christians started settling in Pamplona. The original part of the city was renamed to the  borough of Navarria (Spanish), and two more boroughs were added to it. San Cernin (French/Germanic) and San Nicolas (I believe Italian Weavers and Woodworkers). They were independent, culturally and socially distinct, and never got along with each other. The only thing they had in common was Christianity and they probably didn't agree on that either. The church in each borough was fortified as a defensive structure and the clock tower doubled as the main look out. Sometimes one borough would remain neutral when the others fought each other and other times it would take a side and jump in. Much of the time, the fighting was over the local water resource that separated the borough's.

Finally in 1423 King Charles III unified the thee, he tore down the walls between them, filled in the water resource they fought over and built a beautiful town hall, which combine all three architectural styles, for forced them all to share.

In 1512 Navarre was annexed into Spain. Expecting an attack from France, an impressive citadel (fortress) was built three and the military size was doubled by bringing in troops from other parts of Spain. Part of that was because King Phillip II feared that the original troops might be sentimental to France.  I was certainly impressed by the citadel engineering.

After that, the only time it was out of Spanish control was 1808-1813 when Napoleon seized it.  



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Culture | Tradition | Travel

Comments (4) -

7/31/2015 5:00:45 AM #

Mr. bull in Nebraska was looking for love.  Once he got rolling in my direction, I could feel the ground shaking right before I did the high jump.  Pamplona looks fun, crowded and dangerous, great pictures.


11/6/2015 11:06:27 PM #

483595 310407Fantastic post will probably be linking this on a couple of websites of mine keep up the great work. 435743


11/18/2015 2:38:48 AM #


Thank you for the feedback. Always great to hear kind words.



Evst United States
3/22/2016 3:06:29 PM #

Very, very gooooooood blog! Many useful information, thank you!


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