Some question around San Fermín

Spanish culture, Spanish traditions | July 6, 2012 | No comments

The celebration of San Fermin is famous worldwide. There is no traveller that deserves such name that hasn’t lived a running of the bulls. Nevertheless, there are some questions about this festivity that we must clarify so that the visitor can better appreciate what takes place in Pamplona from the 7th of July on.

We will start by clarifying who was Saint Fermin. He was born in Pamplona in the III century to a family of powerful Roman patricians that were converted to Christianity by Saint Saturnine., who made Fermin his protégé and disciple. He would travel to what today is the Netherlands and France on an evangelizing mission, but he was martyred in Amiens (he is in fact also known as “Saint Fermin of Amiens”). In fact, his remains rest in that French town, though it is well known that his head was brought back to his city of birth.

San Fermin, at the San Fermin's Chapel (Navarra)

San Fermin, at the San Fermin's Chapel (Navarra)

The fame of the Sanfermines is due to the North American writer Ernest Hemingway, who wrote “Fiesta” in 1926 (the original title of the novel is “The sun also rises”). This novel tells the story of a group of people that travel from Paris to Pamplona to watch the renowned fiesta in which the joy of life is show risking it in front of the fighting bulls. Many readers, eager of new experiences, would follow the steps of the literary characters. In 1956 the novel would live a second splendour thanks to a movie based on it.

The main event of the festivity is the running of the bulls. Its origin is found in the XVI century: the shepherds of the times would already take the bulls around the city streets up to Pamplona’s Main Square (where the bullfights took place). They did this at night and with the help of the locals. This task would end up turning into a festive event that in the XIX century started to be known by the name we give it today: the running of the bulls. These races have changed through time, and if the young boys used to run behind the bulls in the past times (as would seem logical to many), the disobedience of some butchers, that decided to run in front the cattle, forced the Town Hall to pass a norm in 1867 that would allow the running as we see it happen today.

San Fermín Fiesta

San Fermín Fiesta

To finish this brief collection, we want to talk about the funny outfit of the “pamplonicas” (the people of Pamplona) during the festivities: all dressed in white and with a red bandana around their neck, as well as a wide cloth belt of the same colour: some remember the German geographer Alexander von Humboldt, who depicted at the beginning of the XIX century the dominance of these colours in the outfits of the Basque-French. Nonetheless, the majority of people think that it all started in 1931, when the members of the La Veleta association decide that, in order to stand out from other associations, they would wear a white outfit with a red element on it. The simplicity of the outfit, as well as its cheapness, would be soon imitated by the rest of the associations, becoming the most common one.

We hope that, with these facts, we might have aroused the curiosity of the traveller that decides to travel to Pamplona during the San Fermin days. Now you know a bit more about our most international tradition.


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