Fiesta De San Fermin, Pamplona Spain

©Robert Leon
Here’s a story I photographed and wrote about The Running of The Bulls or the Encierro at Fiesta De San Fermin in Pamplona, Spain.

… In a tournament between man and beast, enraged bulls chase runners screaming in frenzied panic down narrow barricaded streets …

Photo of Encierro runners chased by bull enter Plaza de Toros, Fiesta De San Fermin, Running of the Bulls. Pamplona, SpainRunning of The Bulls, Fiesta De San Fermin, Pamplona, Spain.


Adrenaline waves surge through Pamploma’s streets during a crazy encierro of the Fiesta de San Fermin (July 7 to 14). In a tournament between man and beast, enraged bulls chase runners screaming in frenzied panic down narrow barricaded streets. Wearing sangria stained clothes from all night partying the runners scramble for their lives and struggle for crazy positions in front of charging bulls. They tempt fate with the bulls lethal horns and swing rolled newspapers at the beasts as they squeeze into the arenas’ funnelling entrance.

Courage and drunken bravery sometimes are not enough to escape a deadly harpooning by the merciless bulls. This fine line between life and death, today and tomorrow makes people in the fiesta uninhibited. It’s like the last big party before fate and destiny call to collect the big bill.

The world famous encierro is only one part of the fiesta. More healthy than the encierro, apart from possible liver damage, is the party. Made famous by Ernest Hemingway this proclaimed “religious fiesta” attracts tourists from around the world that test encierro machismo and experience the wild fiesta partying.

A playhouse full of abundant alcohol consumption, fiesta spirit, acceptance, equality, tolerance and all night parties precede the early morning encierro. This enormous party mixes many cultures and unique characters into a week long gala and drunken binge. Loud booming bands lead enormous giants who pirouette surrealistically in crowded parades of bouncing people. All types of people unique to the fiesta gather here to create a human circus with cross sections of society that contrast city officials to reckless and unrestrained personalities.

It’s difficult to see the religious significance of the fiesta apart from an occasional church procession. This fiesta is an extreme contrast between the religious significance and the drunken madness found in big Spanish fiestas, but the fiesta brings different society groups together forgetting their differences. In the parades people wear costumes that intentionally break stereotypical social status and with social barriers broken they participate without problems. This spiritual element is a blessing and seems to be the religious part of the fiesta.

Night transforms the streets into a performance theatre with an enormous party. The sound of a bizarre rhythm reveals two local musicians that beat on long wooden boards used once to communicate from one village to another. They jam together making a street concert seen only here in Pamploma. A few meters further street people perform a show banging on bongo drums and a dancer with a painted face gyrates to the primitive drumbeat.

Sub-cultures voyaging continuously in Spain’s delirious fiesta circuit make the fiesta an unavoidable meeting point. They survive making money selling whatever they can and performing on the street. Some scavenge food in the Plaza del Toros after events to continue their blissful alternative lifestyle trip.

In a totally packed piazza Australians and New Zealanders climb a five meter tall fountain and then dive down… hoping their friends catch them. One guy dives and misses the target. Passing through his friend’s arms he hits his head making a loud thwack on the pavement. He lies still, unconscious. His panicking friends try to revive him. An ambulance arrives and they put his motionless body inside and send him to the hospital. A minute after the ambulance drives away the crowd guzzles down more beer and sangria. Then they begin the spectacle again, throwing themselves off the ritual fountain as if nothing happened.

Parades of jumping people wave huge painted banners and follow the loud booming beat of drums. Following along with the crowd and letting yourself go by losing control of any predicted destination seems like the only way to participate here. People following the banging drums and painted banners carry buckets of potent sangria. They celebrate singing and drinking in white clothes stained with sangria and eggs.

An old French man wearing a wildly original suit made entirely of coloured buttons joins the group. He thrusts his umbrella up and down like a band leader with the drumming parade beat. Everyone parties together in ecstasy through the packed streets and then they scream out “Agua! Agua! Agua!” The call for water gets answered and the group is washed with buckets of water thrown from windows. Refreshed everyone continues enthusiastically in the staggering parade totally wet and singing. Everyone screams out, “Viva San Fermin!”

Photo of a crowd of people at Fiesta De San Fermin, Running of The Bulls, Pamplona, SpainFiesta De San Fermin revelers screaming for water to be poured down on them. El Encierro or Running of The Bulls, Fiesta De San Fermin, Pamplona, Navarra, Spain.