7 Jul, 2012 @ 08:35
2 mins read

So, you think you know everything about San Fermín?

san fermin DSCF

THIS fiesta is known worldwide. It’s Pamplona’s biggest event of the year. But do you really know what it’s all about?

Who is San Fermín?
Fermín was, of course, a normal person once. He was the son of the Roman ruler of Pamplona. His father was converted to Catholicism by San Saturino in about 300 AD. Fermín was sent to Toulouse for religious instruction and returned as a bishop.

Why do people wear the red scarf (panuelo) around their necks?
This is related to San Fermín. As a newly consecrated bishop, Fermín began to spread his teachings. He ran into trouble in Amiens in France. He was tortured and beheaded there and became a martyr. The panuelo represents his death, bleeding from the neck.

Why do people wear white?
There are three different theories on this. One is that the peñas, which are local social groups in Pamplona, started to wear white to differentiate themselves from the rest of the crowd. From here, the tradition spread. Another thought is that before the Running of the Bulls was even an official event, people still needed to guide the bulls from their enclosures to the Bullring. They were helped by people on horseback but also others who ran in front of the bulls to get them to follow. These people wore white – hence the tradition. The final theory comes from the three fundamental pillars of the festival. One is spontaneity, the second tradition and the third anonymity omitting any wealth, social background or politics. White ensures the anonymity.

Did you know there are two San Fermín fiestas?
The big messy international one is starting this Friday 6th July, but there’s also a local traditional celebration of the Saint Fermín in September. There is no bull run or fight, but the religious ceremonies take precedence and, of course, the drinking, fun and fiesta too.

How does the fiesta of San Fermín retain political anonymity?
This is well thought-out fairness. The responsibility of lighting the rocket for the Chupinazo (this is the opening ceremony at 12pm on Friday) is rotated between the different political parties.

Who are these crazy giants and people wearing huge hollow heads?
They are the Gigantes and Cabezudos. The parades of the Gigantes and Cabezudos happen everyday of the fiesta. They carry pikes with foam balls on the end and will hit you with them if you annoy them enough. There are five pairs, to represent all the continents on Earth. Aha! But before you geographers slap my wrists, I know there are six (land masses)! But when this tradition first began, they had no clue about the land down under, and, well, the traditional number stuck. Try to spot the affectionately named potato head and vinegar face Cabezudo . Children provoke these clumsy top-heavy characters and run quick to avoid the beating!

Did you know there is an unofficial running of the bulls every evening at sundown?
The bulls need to be moved from their enclosures to the pens from where they start the encierro the next next morning. At sunset the short run is made in mystical darkness. The street lamps go out, the crowds are hushed, the nearby fairground comes to a standstill to allow the bulls to move in peace. You can watch this by the river. Listen out for the horn signal.

Do you like garlic?
In Plaza de las Recoletas there used to be a huge garlic market each year. Now only two stalls remain but the long garlands of garlic are of unrivalled quality.

Finally, where can you find the best lemon sorbet during the festival?
At the peña headquarters of Gaztel Eku in a back street off of Calle Mayor.

Many thanks to Free Tours San Fermín for all the information. Join them every evening from 2nd-5th July at 7pm at the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) square. They’ll show you the city, tell you about the history and give you some essential tips for any of you brave enough to run with the bulls!

Enjoy the fiesta!


  1. Looks like I’ve missed my chance to join the torture circus this year, but I’m sure the Olive Press will keep us informed of future bloodfests. Thanks for keeping Spain in the fifteenth century OP!

  2. “Dave- … Thanks for keeping Spain in the fifteenth century OP!” Did you enjoy the Parade of Sail on the Thames last month. 16th Century I think. Or the Trooping the Colour, or the Ceremony of the Keys every evening at the Tower? Or perhaps you prefer the more modern tradition of watching the solstice at Stonehenge ?

  3. There’s a lot more to San Fermín than the running of the bulls and the bull fights. It’s been full of traditional dancing, music and a great atmosphere with the whole community enjoying the fiesta. You can choose what you see, and it really does have something for everybody. So I wouldn’t write it off too quickly!

  4. This was very interesting to read…I’ve been twice and agree Katie there is so much more than bulls…in fact the atmosphere is like no other festival in Europe…intense and a lot of fun!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Madeleine McCann e
Previous Story

British detectives investigate Madeleine McCann ‘grave’ claims

Next Story

Palmed off in Spain

Latest from Katie Sims in Pamplona

lyon view

Save Erasmus!

The possible bankruptcy of the Erasmus programme was something that hit a nerve with me...

Have you been in Portugal?

As a teacher of English in Spain, reading the news recently that Spain ranks lowest in English proficiency in the whole of Europe brought me to despair
Go toTop

More From The Olive Press