Running of the bulls

Running of the Bulls (encierro)
Sanfermines Vaquillas Pamplona 08.jpg
The bull run in Pamplona
Dates6–14 July
Location(s)Pamplona and other
Monument in Pamplona
Runners surround the bulls on Estafeta Street

A running of the bulls (Spanish: encierro, from the verb encerrar, 'to corral, to enclose'; Occitan: abrivado, literally 'haste, momentum'; Catalan: correbous, 'street-bulls') is an event that involves running in front of a small group of cattle, typically six[1] but sometimes ten or more, that have been let loose on a course of a sectioned-off subset of a town's streets,[1], usually as part of a summertime festival. Particular breeds of cattle may be favored, such as the toro bravo in Spain,[1] also often used in post-run bullfighting, and Camargue cattle in Occitan France, which are not fought. Actual bulls (non-castrated male cattle) are typically used in such events.

The most famous bull-run – what a capitalized "the Running of the Bulls" most often refers to in English – is the encierro held in Pamplona during the nine-day festival of Sanfermines in honour of Saint Fermin.[2] It has become a major global tourism event, today very different from the traditional, local festival. More traditional summer bull-runs are held in other places such as towns and villages across Spain and Portugal, in some cities in Mexico,[3] and in the Occitan (Camargue) region of southern France. Bull-running was formerly also practiced in rural England, most famously at Stamford until 1837.

The origin of this event comes from the need to transport the bulls from the fields outside the city, where they were bred, to the bullring, where they would be killed in the evening.[4] During this "run", 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 holds that bull-running began in northeastern Spain in 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][non-primary source needed]

Pamplona bull run

Saint Fermin, honored in Pamplona
Pamplona, 7 July 2005. People climb to the fences as the bulls run by and cross the Town Hall Plaza.

The Pamplona[2] encierro is the most popular in Spain and 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 Fermín festival, which is held every year from 6–14 July.[2] The first bull running is on 7 July, 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][8]


In Pamplona, a set of wooden fences are erected to direct the bulls along the route and to block off side streets. A double wooden fence is used in those areas where there is enough space, while in other parts the buildings of the street act as barriers. The gaps in the barricades are wide enough for a human to slip through but narrow enough to block a bull. The fence is composed of approximately three thousand separate pieces of wood. Some parts of the fence remain in place for the duration of the fiesta, while others are placed and removed each morning.[9] Spectators can only stand behind the second fence, whereas the space between the two fences is reserved for security and medical personnel and also to participants who need cover during the event.[8]


Police barrier at the beginning of the running stops people until the first rocket is fired.

The encierro begins with runners singing a benediction. It is sung three times, each time being sung both in Spanish and Basque. 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 and can be translated into English as "We ask Saint Fermin, as our Patron, to guide us through the encierro and give us his blessing". The singers finish by shouting "¡Viva San Fermín! and Gora San Fermin! ('Long live Saint Fermin', in Spanish and Basque, respectively).[7] Most runners dress in the traditional clothing of the festival which consists of a white shirt and trousers with a red waistband (faja) and neckerchief (pañuelo). Also some of them hold the day's newspaper rolled to draw the bulls' attention from them if necessary.[7]

The running

Pamplona, 2007. Bulls following some runners enter the bull ring from the callejón, where the event ends. The bulls can be seen in the foreground and background of the picture.

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 two minutes, 30 seconds.[7]

The encierro is usually composed of the six bulls to be fought in the afternoon, six steers that run in herd with the bulls, and three more steers that follow the herd to encourage any reluctant bulls to continue along the route. The function of the steers, who run the route daily, is to guide the bulls to the bullring.[7] The average speed of the herd is 24 km/h (15 mph).[7]

The length of the run is 875 meters (957 yards). It goes through four streets of the old part of the city (Santo Domingo, Ayuntamiento, Mercaderes and Estafeta) via the Town Hall Square and the short section "Telefónica" (named for the location of the old telephone office at end of Calle Estafeta) just before entering into the bullring through its callejón (tunnel).[2] The fastest part of the route is up Santo Domingo and across the Town Hall Square, but 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 ("la curva"), resulting in the installation of anti-slip surfacing, and now most of the bulls negotiate the turn onto Estafeta and are often ahead of the steers. This has resulted in a quicker run. Runners are not permitted in the first 50 meters of the encierro, which is an uphill grade where the bulls are much faster.[citation needed]

Injuries, fatalities, and medical attention

Two injured runners are treated by medical services.

Every year, between 50 and 100 people are injured during the run.[7] Not all of 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.[10]

Goring is much less common but potentially life threatening. In 2013, for example, six participants were gored along the festival, in 2012, only four runners were injured by the horns of the bulls with exactly the same number of gored people in 2011, nine in 2010 and 10 in 2009; with one of the latter killed.[10][11] As most of the runners are male, only 5 women have been gored since 1974. Before that date, running was prohibited for women.[12]

Another major risk is runners falling and piling up (a "montón") 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. A runner died of suffocation in one such pile up in 1977.[13]

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 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 it possible to have a gored person stabilized and taken to a hospital in less than 10 minutes.[14]

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[15]
1927 Santiago Zufía 34 Navarre, Spain Bullring Goring[15]
1935 Gonzalo Bustinduy 29 San Luis Potosí, Mexico Bullring Goring[15]
1947 Casimiro Heredia 37 Navarre, Spain Estafeta Goring[15]
1947 Julián Zabalza 23 Navarre, Spain Bullring Goring[15]
1961 Vicente Urrizola 32 Navarre, Spain Santo Domingo Goring[15]
1969 Hilario Pardo 45 Navarre, Spain Santo Domingo Goring[15]
1974 Juan Ignacio Eraso 18 Navarre, Spain Telefónica Goring[15]
1975 Gregorio Gorriz 41 Navarre, Spain Bullring Goring[15]
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[15]
1980 Vicente Risco 29 Badajoz, Spain Bullring hit[15]
1995 Matthew Peter Tassio 22 Glen Ellyn, Illinois, USA Town Hall Square Goring[16]
2003 Fermín Etxeberria 62 Navarre, Spain Mercaderes Hit by a horn[17]
2009 Daniel Jimeno Romero 27 Alcalá de Henares, Spain Telefónica Goring[18][19]

Dress code

Runners at the Pamplona bull run in typical attire

Though there is no formal dress code, the very common and traditional attire is white trousers, white shirt with a red scarf around the waist and a red handkerchief around the neck. Another common dress practice, seen as a risk by some but as a daring depiction of courage by others is dressing in a conspicuous manner. Many runners that want to be seen wear colors other than white, a common alternate color choice is blue. Others include large logos on their shirt to capture the attention of the bulls. In the age of social media explosion, this is also thought to be a way to highlight someone in a photo.[20][unreliable source]


Hemingway drank in the Café Iruña, established 1888 in Pamplona/Iruña

The encierro of Pamplona has been depicted many times in literature, television or advertising, but became known worldwide partly because of the descriptions of Ernest Hemingway in books The Sun Also Rises and Death in the Afternoon. The cinema pioneer Louis Lumière filmed the run in 1899.[21]

The event is the basis for a chapter in James Michener's 1971 novel The Drifters.

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 that surviving a mortal danger can bring joy.

Running with Bulls, a 2012 documentary of the festival filmed by Construct Creatives and presented by Jason Farrel, depicts the pros and cons of the controversial tradition.[22]

Since 2014, the Esquire Channel has broadcast the running of the bulls as a show in the US,[23] with both live commentary and then a recorded 'round up' later in the day by NBCSN commentators the Men in Blazers, including interviews with noted participants such as Madrid-born runner David Ubeda,[24] former US Special Forces soldier turned filmmaker Dennis Clancey,[25] the historic New York-born runner Joe Distler,[26] and former British bullfighter and author Alexander Fiske-Harrison.[27]

In 2014, the eBook guide, Fiesta: How To Survive The Bulls Of Pamplona, caused headlines around the world when one of the contributors was gored by a bull soon after its publication.[28] (See Further Reading section below.)

Other Languages
Deutsch: Stierlauf
Esperanto: Taŭrokuro
euskara: Entzierro
français: Encierro
italiano: Encierro
Nederlands: Stierenrennen
日本語: エンシエロ
polski: Encierro
português: Encierro
русский: Энсьерро
Simple English: Running of the Bulls
српски / srpski: Енсијеро
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Encierro
svenska: Tjurrusning
українська: Енсьєро
中文: 奔牛節