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Passing through Navarre in Northern Spain this week? Why not head to its capital city, Pamplona, to witness the annual spectacle of the running of the bulls. If you’re feeling especially brave, you can even take part! Between the 7th and the 14th of July every year, the people of Navarre celebrate their patron saint, San Fermín. Alongside the typical Spanish celebrations including fireworks, food and plenty of street parties, there are celebrations of those historical Spanish figures: the bulls. Each morning at 8am sharp, crowds of people gather in the streets of the old quarter, which is barricaded to protect spectators. All those running with the bulls take up their places in the middle of the street. The objective is to race through the old town to the bullring, but you have to move fast, as six bulls and six oxen are released just behind you, and you have to beat them to the destination!
The first firework announces the start of the race for the people, and the second one indicates that the bulls have been released. The whole race takes about four minutes from start to finish, and takes you through some of the oldest and most beautiful streets in Pamplona, before ending in the old bullring where the bulls are rounded up. The tradition is said to have started when the bulls were run through the town on their way to fight in the bullring, and daredevils jumped into the race in front of them. In the past, people were gored and even killed by the bulls; in fact 15 people have died during the event since 1924. However, new safety exits have been introduced recently, giving people a chance to leave the race if they aren’t fast enough runners. Today, while some people are still injured, this tends to be from falls rather than from the bulls. The new safety features mean that many tourists are attracted to the event, and famous people have even taken part.
The adrenaline-fuelled spectacle is considered by some to be the bull’s last stand, as they are killed in the afternoon by matadors in the traditional bullfights.
If you want to take part, the only condition is that you’re over 18 and sober. Many wear the Pamplona costume of a white shirt and trousers with a red band around the waist, which is said to attract the bull’s attention like a bullfighter’s cape. However, bulls are actually colourblind and so would not be attracted by the red band, and most people wear the costume out of tradition. If you’re not a fast runner, simply watching the race is thrilling, and you can see it from any of the side streets which border the route. Spectators often hang off the wooden barricades, and the best spot is towards the end of the course, when only the bravest runners are left.
Afterwards, why not join in the party at one of the great tapas restaurants lining the streets of the old city, washing it down with the infamous Navarrese sloe gin. Of you can try pinchos, snack food from the north-east of Spain that consist of rustic bread slices topped with regional delicacies such as crabmeat or cured ham. If you fancy something more substantial, try ajoarriero a la Navarra, a tomato, garlic and onion stew with that most Spanish of fish: salt cod.
By : Emily Wassell