Running Of the Bulls: 8 Interesting Facts About the Pamplona Tradition

The Running of the Bulls, held in the small basque city of Pamplona, Spain, is one of the world's longest standing traditions. The festival, which may date back to the Middle Ages, has been celebrated annually since 1592. Today, visitors from around the corner and around the world gather in Spain to witness the event and take part in the week-long fiesta. Here are eight interesting facts about the origin and evolution of the Running of the Bulls.

1. Religious Origins

The week-long Pamplona festival was originally held in October to honor the Patron Saint, San Fermín. The origin of the religious celebration may date as far back as to the Middle Ages. Over time, the sanfermines began to add elements to the religious ceremonies such as "trade fairs, music, dance, giants, tournaments, acrobats, bull runs and bullfights."

2. A 421 Year Tradition

Despite evidence that the basis of the San Fermín celebrations began in the 13th century, According to TIMEthe Running of the Bulls has been celebrated annually since 1592 — a century after the Spanish reconquest and Columbus discovered America. In 1592, the festival was moved from October 10 to July to avoid the shaky October feather and coincide with the annual fair already held in July. The festival has since remained a hallmark of the Spanish Summer; it now runs annually from July 7-14.  

3. A Practical Purpose

The Running of the Bulls is a huge tourist attraction and a celebratory week-long occasion for both Spaniards and international travelers. Nonetheless, the festival emerged for its practical purpose. According to TIMEthe bull run started because it served as a way to transport the bulls from Pamplona's corral to its bullfighting ring where public spectacles were to be held throughout the fighting season. 

4. A Risky Occasion

The Running of the Bulls has earned the reputation for a dangerous and violent festival-- and this popular conception is not unfounded. According to ABC News, at least 13 spectators and participants have died from injuries related to the bull run in the last century. The last death was that of a 22-year-old American tourist in 1995. It may come as a surprise, however, that the most dangerous aspect of the festival is not the bull run itself, but the week-long party flowing with traditional sangria that takes place around the feature event. According to the Chicago Tribune, "far more festival-goers have been impaired from over consumption of alcohol" than from bull-related injuries. 

5. Popularized By American Pop Culture

Ernest Hemingway popularized Pamploma's Running of the Bulls festival when he published his famous novel The Sun Also Rises in 1926. Hemingway's novel takes place against the backdrop of the wild Spanish fiesta and bull run, and the author relies on the ceremony to symbolize larger themes in his work such as the lost generation and the quest to reclaim masculinity in the post-war world. This classic American novel helped transform the Running of the Bulls into an international spectacle. 

6. The Bull Runners

As Hemingway's protagonist, Jake, declares in The Sun Also Rises, “Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bull-fighters.” The bull runners, known as mozos, wear traditional white uniforms with red trimming. According to the Chicago Tribune, there are two contested origins of the uniform: on the one hand, the red and white colors might honor the martyred Saint Fermín while others claim the uniforms represent the butchers who began the running of the bulls tradition. 

7. The Myth of the Color Red

It is a common mistake to believe that Spanish matadors and mozos dawn the color red in order to anger the bulls. In fact, according to The Discovery Channel, the color is not what drives bulls to attack because "bulls don't seem to have any color preference at all." Bulls instinctively follow movement, so they will charge whichever object is moving quickest. Therefore, the bulls chase the runners because of their speed, not the color of their uniforms.

8. A Short-Lived Race

Although the running of the bulls takes place each day from July 7-14, each individual race takes just three minutes on average and terminates just minutes after it begins at 8 a.m., according to the Chicago Tribune. For the rest of the day, attendees visit the traditional livestock fair and take part in the crazy celebrations, which last all through the night. The festival ends at midnight on July 14 when all who remain in Pamplona gather before the City Hall and sing the song "Pobre de Mi," "Poor me, the Fiesta de San Fermin has ended.'"