You see it every July—countless people literally running for their lives down the streets of Pamplona as a slew of bulls are released behind them, snorting, bucking and racing down the narrow roads.
Folks run into one another, desperately trying to escape being gored. They duck into doorways, hide along walls hoping to remain undetected as the bulls run by, and most eventually make it to the bullring as the bulls are herded into the corrals.
And yes, sometimes a person dies. In fact, 15 deaths have been recorded since 1924. Countless others are always injured. It is not an event for the feint of heart, short of breath or poor of balance.
Here is a primer for this year's historical and controversial event.
When: The San Fermin Festival runs from July 6 to July 14. The running of the bulls will take place each morning at 8 a.m. from July 7 through the end of the festival on July 14.
Where: Pamplona, Spain
The running of the bulls over eight days at the San Fermin Festival prelude the bullfights that take place in the afternoon. The six bulls that are unleashed on the streets of Pamplona are corralled once they reach the bullring and will be killed by a matador in a bullfight later in the day (or after the bullfight if the matador fails to do the deed).
As you might imagine, animal rights activists decry the tradition, and PETA has become a regular fixture, protesting the festivities.
Ernest Hemingway famously wrote about the festival and bullfights in both The Sun Also Rises and Death in the Afternoon, where he explained his interest in what he described as the "art" of bullfighting:
The only place where you could see life and death, i. e., violent death now that the wars were over, was in the bull ring and I wanted very much to go to Spain where I could study it. I was trying to learn to write, commencing with the simplest things, and one of the simplest things of all and the most fundamental is violent death.
The run itself stretches for about half a mile. Runners are sent on their way with the sound of a rocket, which lets them know the bulls have been released. A second rocket signifies that the bulls have reached the street, while a third means the bulls have reached the ring and a fourth means they've been corralled.
The San Fermin festival itself—which celebrates Saint Fermin, the patron saint of Navarra—has roots dating back to the 12th century, while bullfighting dates back to the 14th century. The festival has always been a combination of a religious event and giant party, with the latter aspect first widely documented in the 17th century.
Due to Hemingway's exposure of the event and subsequent media portrayals, the festival became popular around the world. Of course, outside of the week-long party, most tourists come to experience the famous running of the bulls, either to experience the danger themselves or spectate the unique event.
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