Sanfermines: You Drink or You Run

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By Kam Gragera
almost 2 years ago

Sanfermines means Pamplona, and vice versa. But, where in the world is Pamplona? In Spain. It’s the capital of Navarra, one of the seventeenth Spanish regions. Land of medieval towns, lively welcoming people and breathtaking nature, it is a place to experience in its whole magnificence. Here below, a sample; a photo of one of the biggest beech and silver fir forest in Europe called Selva de Irati.

Selva de Irati

Spain is a country of traditions, and one of the craziest takes place every July in the city of Pamplona. Sanfermines, a worldwide famous celebration that attracts thousands of people from all over the globe, who come to have a blast and turn the city upside down during nine days. Just so you can have an approximate idea of the magnitude of the event: Pamplona, with about 196.000 inhabitants, sees its population multiplied by FIVE during this long week… Do you wonder how they all fit?

Los Sanfermines

The origins of Sanfermines date back to Medieval times. It occurred as a result of three different festivities: religious ceremonies in honour of Saint Fermín -patron saint of Navarra, not so of Pamplona-, trade fairs and bullfights.

The festivity starts every 6 of July at noon at the sound of “el chupinazo”, a petard thrown from the balcony of one of the main buildings in the city. The main event during the celebration are the “encierros”, the procession of the saint and the parade of giants and cabezudos.

Among all, the “encierros” are the Sanfermines hallmark. It consists in leading the bulls towards the bullring through the streets of the city, for about 850 metres. They start at 8 am every day, from the 7 to the 14 of July. The runners are mostly male. Women are allowed to run since 1974, but not many do it. A big part of of these runners are local people who run the “encierros”every year. They train to get ready and take the issue very seriously. But anybody can join the run, it just takes crossing the fence that separates the run from the spectators. Every year lots of visitors summon their courage - often the bravery comes from the amount of alcohol and whatnot they’ve consumed - and throw themselves into the run, sometimes with dramatic consequences.

Despite the “encierros” being the main attraction, there are many other activities scheduled during Sanfermines. The procession of Saint Fermín on the 7th, for instance, attended by a local crowd that, led by devotion or not, can’t help to get moved by it, and specially by “el momentico” (the little moment). That moment in which the sculpture of the saint stops under a balcony, where somebody dedicates a traditional song called “Jota”.

In between religious events and frantic bull runs, the parade of giants and cabezudos appears to add the fun festival vibe that can’t be missed in any Spanish celebration. Three types of characters, Gigantes, Kikis y Zaldikos, walk along the streets of Pamplona every day bringing music, dance and prank into the atmosphere.

Hemingway and Sanfermines

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway first attended Sanfermines in 1923, at the age of 24. This visit inspired some of his novels, and was the first of many more times he would visit the city over the years. Trough his novel The Sun Also Rises (1926), he internationalised Sanfermines, spreading its name all over the world. He wasn’t just a visitor, but part of the local atmosphere of Pamplona, building a life lasting friendship with the owner of one of the hotels he stayed. He was a bull-fighting lover, fan and friends with some of the most important matadors of the time.

The Spanish Civil war, along with his work and the closure of his favourite hotel, kept him far from Sanfermines for 22 years. His last visit was on 1959.

The city of Pamplona considers the writer as part of their history, and his presence is still very noticeable in the streets. Shops named after him, a bust near the bullring or the obligatory visit to Café Iruña, where he used to sit and write, are just some of the examples of the gratitude the city professes him.