Pamplona - Festival Info
The Pamplona festival – also known as the San Fermin Festival or Sanfermines– is held in Pamplona, Spain every year from July 6-14. The most famous part of the festival is the bull run or encierro when 12 bulls charge through the streets of the old city. Although the festival begins on July 6, the bulls do not run until July 7 and then run for 7 consecutive mornings at 8 a.m. until the end of the festival. Anyone over the age of 18 can run with the bulls and there is no charge to participate. These and other details are provided on our bull run page
The Festival in Numbers
- 1 million people attend the festival every year
- Pamplona has just 2400 hotel beds
- Festival runs every year July 6-14
- 15 bulls run every morning July 7-14
- On peak days (like July 7 & 8 or on weekends) 3500 people run with the bulls
- Pamplona has a population of 300,000
Pamplona’s first festivals were held in the 12th century. They were essentially livestock shows with the occasional bullfight. For almost 300 years the festival was held in autumn until the city changed the date to July. The festival is held to honor of San Fermin, Pamplona’s patron saint. Religion has taken second seat to the bull runs but Spanish bull runners still pay homage to San Fermin’s statue before the run and there was a famous procession bearing the statue from city hall to a local chapel.
San Fermin – Pamplona’s Patron Saint
There is some debate as to Fermin’s origins and how he became Pamplona’s patron saint. The most common history is that he was born in Pamplona, the son of a Roman senator who converted to Christianity. Then things get a little hazy. According to some, the Romans executed him by tying his feet to bulls that dragged San Fermin to his death while others say he was beheaded in Amiens, France. When locals make it through the bull run, they “have the protection of San Fermin’s cape.”
Key Festival Dates / Events
July 6 - The Opening Ceremony
The bulls run every day of the festival after the Chupinaxo or opening ceremony. Held every year in the Plaza Consistorial in front of city hall, the festival officially begins at 12:00 pm July 6. The small square and adjoining streets are packed with people awaiting the opening rocket, fired by the mayor promptly at 12 pm. The ceremony has a rock concert-like ambiance with people holding banners, singing, dancing and spraying each other with champagne and sangria. The first Chupinazo was held in 1941 though informal opening celebrations have been held at midday on July 6 since the early 20th century. A panuelo is a neckerchief, almost always red, worn from midday July 6 until the close of the festival at midnight on July 14. At the opening of festival these kerchiefs are held aloft in two hands by all who chant the saint's name. When the rocket fires, pandemonium erupts and the panuelo is tied around the neck. At the closing ceremony, when midnight strikes and a rocket fires, the panuelo is removed and placed in a pocket. Some carry their panuelos to the Church of San Lorenzo after the final ceremony and tie them to a large gate, and others tie their panuelos and sashes to lampposts as they head home.
July 6 - Evening Vespers
The religious evening service held on July 6 in the presence of the full town council at the San Lorenzo church which holds the relics of San Fermin, Pamplona's patron saint. Vespers are sung by a local choir with an international reputation and recordings date back to the 15th century.
July 7 - The First Bull
RunsToday marks the first bull run or encierro. Today is one of the most dangerous days to run as there are so many people along the course.
July 7 at 10:30 AM - Riau Riau
San Fermin's effigy is brought out of San Lorenzo church at 10:30 am July 7 and it is followed by a solemn and dignified procession of the town council dressed in ceremonial garb, clergymen, the bishop of Pamplona and local townsfolk. Fermin was born in Pamplona in the fifth century, the son of a Roman senator who had converted to Christianity. An archbishop at 24, Fermin traveled north to Amiens in pagan Gaul when he was 31 years old and he was martyred there by decapitation. A fragment of his skull was brought to Pamplona in January 1186 and venerated as a sacred relic.
July 6-13 - Encierillo
This is the night crossing of the bulls bound for the morning's encierro. When they arrive in Pamplona, the groups of bulls are kept in large corrals across the river from Santo Domingo. The night before they are due to run, the streets along their path are lined with wooden barricades and they move with cabestros through the streets, across the river and up a hill to a corral at the bottom of Santo Domingo. A limited number of spectators are allowed on the wall near the corral on Santo Domingo but only with a difficult-to-obtain security pass from the town council. The time differs from year to year, sometimes night to night, but is always signaled with the blowing of a ram's horn. The encierrillo is always observed in total silence and the only men in the streets are pastores, ranch hands or herders who work with the bulls for a living. Anyone making any noise, using a flash camera or otherwise distracting the bulls at this point would be subject to a fine and incarceration.
Daily July 6-14 - Gigantes
Each day at 9:30 AM in the City Gigantes: The giants of Fiesta, eight (8) larger-than-life figures created in the middle 1800's by a local Navarran artist, Tadeo Amorena. The giants represent the mythical kings and queens of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. Beautifully dressed in lace and satin they appear to dance thanks to strong, nimble men who carry the 130 pound statues using internal harnesses. The Gigantes, popular with small children begin their procession through the city each day at 9:30 AM.
Daily 7:30 PM in the Bullring - Merienda
A picnic or mid-afternoon snack; during Sanfermines this term refers to the meal eaten in the plaza de toros (bullring) at around 7:30 PM after the third bull has been dragged out. The food is often washed down with sangria bought in newly purchased plastic garbage cans of all sizes.
After July 8 after 3 AM in the streets - Caldo
A broth or light soup made from ham bones. Sometimes mixed with a shot of sherry, caldo is popular with the bullrunners and people who have stayed up all night in the streets. It usually first appears in Pamplona on July 8 or 9, and is rarely served before 3 AM.
July 14 - Pobre Mi Closing Ceremony
A moving candlelight ceremony held in the Plaza Consistorial to mark the end of the festival.