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Running of the Bulls (encierro)
Location(s) Pamplona, Spain

The Running of the Bulls (in Spanish encierro, from the verb encerrar, to fence in, to lock/shut up, to pen)[1] is a practice that involves running in front of a small group (typically a dozen) of bulls that have been let loose, on a course of a sectioned-off subset of a town's streets. The most famous running of the bulls is that of the seven-day festival of Sanfermines in honour of Saint Fermin in Pamplona,[2] although they are held in towns and villages across Spain, Portugal, in some cities in Mexico,[3] in San Jose Festival held in Trujillo, Peru, Mesquite, Nevada,[4] southern France during the summer.

The origin of this event comes from the need to transport the bulls from the off-site corrals where they had spent the night, to the bullring where they would be killed in the evening. Youngsters would jump among them to show off their bravado. In Pamplona and other places, the six bulls in the event are still those that will feature in the afternoon bullfight of the same day.

Spanish tradition says the true origin of the run began in northeastern Spain during the early 14th century. While transporting cattle in order to sell them at the market, men would try to speed the process by hurrying their cattle using tactics of fear and excitement. After years of this practice, the transportation and hurrying began to turn into a competition, as young adults would attempt to race in front of the bulls and make it safely to their pens without being overtaken. When the popularity of this practice increased and was noticed more and more by the expanding population of Spanish cities, a tradition was created and stands to this day.[5]

The event

Before the running of the bulls, a set of wooden or iron barricades is erected to direct the bulls along the route and to block off side streets. There may be a double row of barricades along the route to allow runners to quickly exit in case of danger. The gaps in the barricades are wide enough for a human to slip through, but narrow enough to block a bull.

Pamplona bull run

The Pamplona[2] encierro is the most popular in Spain has been broadcast live by RTVE, the public Spanish national television channel, for over 30 years.[6] It is the highest profile event of the San Fermin festival, which is held every year from July 6–14.[2] The first bull running is on July 7, followed by one on each of the following mornings of the festival, beginning every day at 8 am. Among the rules to take part in the event are that participants must be at least 18 years old, run in the same direction as the bulls, not incite the bulls, and not be under the influence of alcohol.[7]


In Pamplona a double wooden fence is used in those streets where there is enough space for it, while in other parts the buildings of the street act as barriers. It is composed of around three thousand separate pieces and while some parts are left for the duration of the fiesta others are mounted and dismounted every morning.[8]


The encierro begins with runners singing a benediction. It is sung three times, each time being sung both in Spanish and Basque. The Spanish version is as follows: "A San Fermín pedimos, por ser nuestro patrón, nos guíe en el encierro dándonos su bendición" ("We ask Saint Fermin, as our Patron, to guide us through the encierro and give us his blessing"). The benediction is a prayer given at a statue of Saint Fermin, patron of the festival and the city, to ask the saint's protection. The singers finish by shouting “Viva San Fermín!, Gora San Fermín!” ("Long live Saint Fermin", in Spanish and Basque).[7] Most runners dress in the traditional clothing of the festival which consists of a white shirt and trousers with a red waistband and neckerchief. Also some of them hold the day's newspaper rolled to draw the bulls' attention from them if necessary.[7]

The running

A first rocket is set off at 8 a.m. to alert the runners that the corral gate is open. A second rocket signals that all six bulls have been released. The third and fourth rockets are signals that all of the herd has entered the bullring and its corral respectively, marking the end of the event.[7] The average duration between the first rocket and the end of the encierro is four minutes.[7]

The herd is composed of the six bulls to be fought in the afternoon, six steers that run with the bulls, and three more steers that leave the corral two minutes later. The function of the oxen is to guide the herd. [7] The average speed of the herd is 24 km/h (15 mph).[7]

The length of the run is 826 metres (903 yards). It goes through four streets of the old part of the city (Santo Domingo, Town Hall Square, Mercaderes and Estafeta) and a section called Telefónica before entering into the bullring.[2] The fastest part of the route is up Santo Domingo and across the Town Hall Square, but in the past the bulls often became separated at the entrance to Estafeta Street as they slowed down. One or more would slip going into the turn at Estafeta, but, with the use of the new anti-slip surfacing, most of the bulls negotiate the turn onto Estafeta and are often ahead of the steers. This has resulted in a quicker run.

Injuries, fatalities and sanitary attention

Every year, between 200 and 300 people are injured during the run although most injuries are contusions due to falls and are not serious.[7] Not all the injuries require taking the patients to the hospital: in 2013 50 people were taken by ambulance to Pamplona's hospital, with this number nearly doubling that of 2012.[9]

Goring is much less common but potentially life threatening. In 2013 for example, 6 participants were gored along the festival, in 2012 only 4 runners were injured by the horns of the bulls with exactly the same number of gored people in 2011, 9 in 2010 and 10 in 2009; with one of the latter killed.[10][9] As most of the runners are male, only 5 women have been gored since 1974. Previously to that date running was vetted for women.[11]

Another major risk is runners falling and piling up at the entrance of the bullring, which acts as a funnel as it is much narrower than the previous street. In such cases injuries come both from asphyxia and contusions to those in the pile and from goring if the bulls crush into the pile. This kind of blocking of the entrance has occurred at least ten times in the history of the run, the last occurring in 2013 and the first dating back to 1878, whereas a runner died in one of such pilings in 1977 due to suffocation.[12]

Overall, since record-keeping began in 1910, 15 people have been killed in the bull running of Pamplona, most of them due to being gored.[7] To minimize the impact of injuries every day 200 hundred people collaborate in the medical attention. They are deployed in 16 sanitary posts (every 50 metres on average), each one with at least a physician and a nurse among their personnel. Most of these 200 people are volunteers, mainly from the red cross. In addition to the medical posts there are around 20 ambulances. This organization makes possible to have a gored person stabilized and taken to hospital in less than 10 minutes.[13]

15 Deaths since 1910 in the bull run of Pamplona[7]
Year Name Age Origin Location Cause of death
1924 Esteban Domeño 22 Navarre, Spain Telefónica Goring [14]
1927 Santiago Zufía 34 Navarre, Spain Bullring Goring [14]
1935 Gonzalo Bustinduy 29 San Luis Potosí, Mexico Bullring Goring [14]
1947 Casimiro Heredia 37 Navarre, Spain Estafeta Goring [14]
1947 Julián Zabalza 23 Navarre, Spain Bullring Goring [14]
1961 Vicente Urrizola 32 Navarre, Spain Santo Domingo Goring [14]
1969 Hilario Pardo 45 Navarre, Spain Santo Domingo Goring [14]
1974 Juan Ignacio Eraso 18 Navarre, Spain Telefónica Goring [14]
1975 Gregorio Gorriz 41 Navarre, Spain Bullring Goring [14]
1977 José Joaquín Esparza 17 Navarre, Spain Bullring Suffocated in a pile-up.[7]
1980 José Antonio Sánchez 26 Navarre, Spain Town Hall Square Goring [14]
1980 Vicente Risco 29 Badajoz, Spain Bullring Goring [14]
1995 Matthew Peter Tassio 22 Glen Ellyn, Illinois, USA Town Hall Square Goring[15]
2003 Fermín Etxeberria 63 Navarre, Spain Mercaderes Hit by a horn[16]
2009 Daniel Jimeno Romero 27 Alcalá de Henares, Spain Telefónica Goring[17][18]

Media depictions

The encierro of Pamplona has been depicted many times in literature, television or advertising, but became known world wide partly due to the descriptions of Ernest Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises and Death in the Afternoon. The cinema pioneer Louis Lumière filmed the run in 1899.[19]

The run is depicted in the 1991 Billy Crystal film City Slickers where the character "Mitch" (Crystal) is gored (non-fatally) from behind by a bull during a vacation with the other main characters.

The run appears in the 2011 Bollywood movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, directed by Zoya Akhtar, as the final dare in the bucket list of the three bachelors who have to overcome their ultimate fear; death. At first, the trio run part of the route. They stop at the square, but then recover their nerve, and continue to the end. The completion of the run depicts their freedom as they learn a valuable lesson, that you only live once.


The history of the running in front of bulls is not completely clear. It started when bullfighting became a popular pastime, and many bullrings were built. The only way to get the bulls from the corral to the bullring was by running them through the streets to the ring. Eventually, people started running with the bulls. As every year passed, this became more and more popular, and has grown into this extremely important festival.

Other examples

Although the most famous running of the bulls is that of San Fermín,[2] they are held in towns and villages across Spain, Portugal, in some cities in southern France during the summer. Examples are the bull run of San Sebastián de los Reyes, near Madrid, at the end of August which is the most popular of Spain after Pamplona, the bull run of Cuéllar, considered as the oldest of Spain since there are documents of its existence dating back to 1215, the Highland Capeias of the Raia in Sabugal, Portugal, with horses leading the herd crossing old border passes out of Spain and using the medieval 'Forcåo', or the bull run of Navalcarnero held at night.

The English town of Stamford, Lincolnshire was host to a bull-running festival for almost 700 years until it was abandoned in 1837.[20] According to local tradition, the custom dated from the time of King John when William de Warenne, 5th Earl of Surrey, saw two bulls fighting in the meadow beneath. Some butchers came to part the combatants and one of the bulls ran into the town, causing a great uproar. The earl, mounting his horse, rode after the animal, and enjoyed the sport so much, that he gave the meadow in which the fight began, to the butchers of Stamford, on condition that they should provide a bull, to be run in the town every 13 November, for ever after.

Other encierros have also caused fatalities.[21]

Mock bull runs

A variation is the nightly "fire bull" where balls of flammable material are placed on the horns. Currently the bull is often replaced by a runner carrying a frame on which fireworks are placed and dodgers, usually children, run to avoid the sparks.

In 2008 Red Bull Racing driver David Coulthard and Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Sébastien Bourdais performed a version of 'bull running' event in Pamplona, Spain, with the Formula One cars chasing 500 runners through the actual Pamplona route.[22]

The Big Easy Rollergirls roller derby team has performed a version of annual bull run in New Orleans, Louisiana since 2007. In 2012 there were 14,000 runners and over 400 "bulls" from all over the country, with huge before- and after-parties.[23][24][25]

In Ballyjamesduff, Ireland, an annual "Pig Run" is held. It looks just like encierro but with wild boars instead of bulls.

In Dewey Beach, Delaware, the Starboard bar[26] sponsors an annual Running of the Bull [sic], in which hundreds of red and white-clad beachgoers are chased down the shore by a single “bull” (two people in a costume).

In Rangiora, New Zealand, an annual "Running of the Sheep" is held. Where 1000-2000 sheep are released down the main street of the small farming town.

The Running of the Bulls UK is a pub crawl event that takes place on London's Hampstead Heath and uses fast runners in place of bulls.


Many animal rights activists oppose the event. PETA activists created the "running of the nudes", a demonstration the day before the beginning of San Fermín in Pamplona. By marching naked, they protested the festival and the following bullfight, arguing the bulls are tortured for entertainment.[27]

The city of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, cancelled its Sanmiguelada running of the bulls after 2006, citing public disorder associated with the event.[28] After the event was cancelled in San Miguel, the city of Salvatierra, also in the state of Guanajuato, picked up the event. It is now called La Marquesada and the three-day event is held during the last weekend of the month of September or first weekend of October.

See also


External links

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