This thrilling event dates back to the 14th and 15 centuries. The reason for the “encierro” taking place comes from the necessity of herding bulls to be fought in the afternoon from the corrals in Santo Domingo to the bull ring. But there have been many changes over the years.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the animals were led through the streets by a group of horsemen. The first runners were mainly butchers, and the bullfight took place in the Plaza del Castillo, but it wasn’t until the end of the 19th century when young men began to run in front of the bulls that the “encierro” became the most popular moment of the fiesta.
Today there are “encierros” every morning at 8:00 from July 7 through July 14 during Sanfermines. Again and again, runners risk danger and death along the 848.6 meters that separate the new bull ring from the corrals.
The day before, at nightfall, in perfect silence and accompanied by oxen, the six bulls that will star in the “encierro” to be fought the next day are herded 440 meters by shepherds from their “los corrals del Gas” in the Rochapea to other corrals in Santo Domingo where the “encierro” begins.
Some 350 passes are given out free of charge from July 6 to July 13 to watch the “encierrillo” from the sidelines at around 10:30. The passes can be obtained from the Town Hall a few days before the start of the fiesta.
A chant to San Fermín
- Since the year 1962, at 7:55 in the morning, los “mozos” who are running the “encierro” sing to the image of San Fermín, placed in a small niche built into a wall on Santo Domingo, asking for his protection. (“Mozos” is a term used for the women and men who run the “encierro”). With a rolled -up newspaper in hand, which later will be used to guide the bulls, they chant their prayer three times before the first rocket is launched, announcing that the gate to the corrals is open. Red scarves from the “peñas” or San Fermín clubs adorn the niche.
- The words to the chant are these: “A San Fermín pedimos/ por ser nuestro patrón/ nos guíe en el encierro/ dandonos su bendición” Or in English, “We ask San Fermín, our patron saint to guide us in the “encierro”, giving us his blessing.” It ends with shouts :
Viva San Fermín! Gora San Fermín!
Rockets in the Air
Two rockets announce to the “mozos” that the “encierro” is beginning. The first one is shot from the gate of the corrals when the clock of San Cernin marks 8:00 sharp. The gates are now open. The second rocket is launched when all the animals are all in the street.
The third rocket comes from the bull ring signaling that the herd is now in the ring, and the fourth, when the bulls have entered the corrals of the ring.
Route of the “Encierrro”
The present route of the “encierro” is divided into seven parts or “tramos”:
- Santo Domingo (280 meters). The stretch that begins at the corrals and continues up a dangerously narrow slope to the plaza of the Town Hall. This is the fastest “tramo” with bulls that are fresh and ready to run.
- Plaza Consistorial-Mercaderes (100 meters). Fewer incidents occur here as the space in front of the Town Hall is wider with more room to run.
- Mercaderes Curve. Mercaderes street finishes with a 90 degree curve to the right. This is where the bulls tend to slip and fall. Since the pavement has been treated with an anti-slide wash, there are fewer falls.
- Estafeta street (304 meters). Divided into two “tramos”: Estafeta-Bajada de Javier and Bajada de Javier-Telefónica where the herd tends to separate instead of running together. This is the most popular stretch and the one with the most runners because it is here where many of the most spectacular runs occur. It can be very dangerous because there is no way to escape from the course.
- Telefónica Curve (100 meters). Again the “tramo is wider and incredible runs can be had here. But it is dangerous as the herd usually has separated, and a bull alone can cause tragedy.
- “Callejón” or Entrance to the Plaza (25 meters). The entrance to the ring slants downward, and the risk of “mozos” falling on top of each other and causing a mountain or “monton” is high, and this small stretch can have fatal consequences . Now and for the last several years, there are small escape holes inside the “callejón”.
- Bull Ring. Runners should enter the ring and fan out to permit the animals to more easily enter the corrals. There is still a great deal of danger from bulls that don´t follow their brothers and remain in the ring.
The first fences appeared in 1776 to define the route of the “encierro”. Fences mean safety for runners today. During the first days of June, three carpenters from the company Aldaz Remiro have already begun their work putting fences up all along the 848.6 meters of the route. This is far from easy work as they must put in place 2,700 wooden boards, 900 posts, 70 gates, 200 metal-tipped posts (to prevent the public from climbing onto the fence), and 4,000 wedges to hold the posts in place. Every day 15 planks are also available along the route in case one of the boards should break.
Bulls and Oxen
Six bulls run the “encierro” every morning accompanied by two groups of “cabestros” or oxen. The first eight oxen leave the corrals at the beginning of the “encierro” along with the bulls. At two minutes past eight, the second group of three “cabestros” follow with the objective of “picking up” bulls that have been separated on Santo Domingo. The oxen wear bells around their necks and are usually calm and not dangerous to anyone unless a runner has the misfortune to be stepped on by one. Their task is to gently lead the bulls to the ring.
Habitual runners of the “encierro” are in excellent physical condition. They have rested the night before, and their minds are concentrated on how they want to run. The average age of a runner is around 28-years-old (although there are veterans of the race who are 60-years-old or more. Runners usually sprint an average of 100 of the 848 meters of the “encierro” route.
A team of 11 shepherds are extremely important to the “encierro” and must be respected and obeyed by everyone in the route. They run behind the bulls with a long cane or stick in their hands to help drive the bulls to the ring in a compact group.
They watch for people who distract the bulls or who could cause danger to others and are easily identified by their dark green polo shirts. On the backs of the shirts is the word “pastor” or shepherd.
This is a protagonist only found in fights in Navarra. Once the bulls have all entered the ring, the “doblador” (sometimes a retired bullfighter) tries to lead the animals into the corrals with capes in their hands. There are four of them.
Around 160 police agents from Pamplona work for safety in the “encierro” . Some 120 are from the Municipal Police. At 4 am, they begin to clear people from the route so that the streets can be cleaned and so the carpenters can complete their work on the fences. The agents also remove people who have positioned themselves on the first fence, as this is reserved for healthcare workers, police and accredited journalists and photojournalists. It goes without saying that anyone who has had a bit too much to drink is removed.
There are 16 stations for accidents and emergencies manned by 165 healthcare professionals. In addition to doctors, there are Red Cross workers, volunteers from the DYA and even firemen.
The hospitals of Pamplona are some of the very best to treat any kind of wound from a bull or accidents and are on red alert every morning. In addition, there are 15 ambulances – nine of them with medical equipment – parked in strategic areas.
There are several different ways to watch the running of the bulls. One is from the second fence (the first is reserved as indicated above), and it is free. You should be there at least two hours beforehand.
Another option is from the ring, itself. For just six euros, you can watch the “encierro” and the entrance of the herd into the ring on two gigantic screens. Following the “encierro” calves are released for the pleasure of those seeking minor dangers.
Estafeta street doesn´t have any protective fences, but balconies along the way are excellent places to watch, probably because of the increased danger and necessity of good running. You have to rent your space, which is shared with others, and usually comes with breakfast.
Others opt for watching the “encierro” live on television or listening to a live radio broadcast. RTV has been transmitting the running of the bulls for 30 years.
Official municipal guidelines and rules exist concerning the running of the bulls, and there are fines for those not following them.
- Access to the “encierro”: To run the “encierro”, you must be inside the fences before 7:30 in the morning through the gates of the Town Hall and remain there until the police open the barriers for runners to choose their starting points along the route. At 7:30, it is impossible to enter or leave.
- Clothes: The key word is comfortable – both shoes and clothes. Nothing bulky is allowed as it could endanger other runners.
- Bulls and Oxen: They are easy to tell apart. The oxen are larger, older and their horns have been filed down. If that is not enough, they also wear bells.
- Holding onto, climbing above or leaning against buildings, trees, lamp posts, etc., situated inside or outside of the route of the encierro – running of the bulls.
- Installing elements that cross over horizontally, vertically or above the route of the encierro, unless express permission is given by the Town Hall of Pamplona.
- Situate yourself in areas and parts of stretches that are strictly forbidden by these rules and regulations of the Town Hall for the fiestas of Sanfermines or prohibited by the forces of security.
- Crowd the barriers or limits that the police have established in different stretches of the encierro.
- Maintain open the doors and doorways along the route of the encierro after the hours decided upon for their closure. Co-owners, renters or those using these establishments will be responsible for not complying with this rule.
- Be in the route of the encierro under the influence of alcohol, drugs, narcotics or not be in adequate physical and emotional conditions.
- Wear clothing that prevent or make difficult the normal running of the bulls or wearing shoes such as high heels, flip flops sandals, etc.
- Throw objects into the route of the encierro after it has been cleaned.
- Carry objects such as backpacks, bags bottles, glasses, walking canes, cameras or video cameras, microphones or devices to tape the encierro.
- Run towards the bulls or behind them, creating situations of danger.
- Touch the animals unless in an attempt to save a runner. Also prohibited is calingl their attention in any way or by any means along the route or in the ring, and especially by grabbing the horns of the bulls.
- Stop running in a stretch of the route and remain along the fences, barriers or doorways that make the encierro more difficult.
- Before the bulls are set loose, to wait in corners, or doorways with access to houses or establishments, located along the route.
- Use any device to tape or record with or without sound, including cell phones inside the route or from reserved barriers of the encierro without permission.
- Flying over the space of the encierro with any type of device or machine is prohibited if there is a lack of permission.
- Participate in the encierro using any type of mechanical element to move along ( skates, bikes, etc.).
- Set off any kind of fireworks in Pamplona that can cause confusion because of the rockets of the encierro and fear among the runners and spectators between 7:00 h and 8:30:h.
- Any other situation that can cause difficulties in the normal running of the bulls and go against these rules and regulations.
- Average duration: 3 minutes and 55 seconds
- Speed of a bull: 24 km per hour
- Longest lasting “encierro”: 30 minutes
Until now, the longest lasting “encierro took place on July 11, 1959. A Miura bull became separated from the herd, and it was necessary to bring in a dog to bite it in order for the animal to continue on to the ring. Since 1922, the “encierro”has followed the route we see today.
- Most Tragic “Encierros”: July 10, 1947 and July 13, 1980. “Semillero” from the Urquijo ranch killed two “mozos” as did “Antioquio! from the Guardiola ranch.
- Number of runners: Every morning usually 2,000 and almost 3,500 on weekends.
- Most dangerous bulls: Guardiola Fantoni ranch with one death in 1969 and two in 1980
- Number of Injuries each year: Between 200 and 300. Only three % are critical.