Every time there are many injured, sometimes dead. The bullfight of Pamplona is the most dangerous festival in Spain. Six bulls will be herded through the narrow streets of the northern Spanish city every morning until July 14th. Hundreds of people, including sometimes adventurous tourists, run for their lives from their horns. Most are young men, but there are also some women looking for thrills.
According to the Red Cross, almost 150 people have been injured since these traditional bull runs began on July 7. Most suffered broken bones, lacerations or scrapes from falling or being trampled on by the bulls. “mozos”, as the runners dressed in white and red are called, are also regularly taken on the horns. For example, three “mozos” were speared this weekend. They were hit in the thighs or buttocks by the horns – but they survived. At least 16 people have died in this controversial spectacle over the past 100 years.
“You risk your health,” says Teo Lázaro. “The bulls can kill.” The 48-year-old Basque knows what he’s talking about. He ran in 1991 for the first time with the up to 600-pound fighting bulls. Since then, he has rarely missed a bull hunt, which is attended by several thousand people each time. In 2011 he was seriously injured by two horn blasts. But even this could not prevent him from taking part in the bull running again the following year.
What does he recommend to those who absolutely want to risk their lives in the hatz? One thing in particular, says Lázaro: “Look backwards, look left and right, look ahead.” You have to avoid the thundering bulls and other runners in good time. Even if this does not always succeed in the crowd of people and bulls.
That’s why Lázaro, who is a TV reporter this year, still has a survival rule: “If you fall, don’t try to get up immediately.” The horns could be dangerously close at this moment. Experienced runners therefore remain lying down after a fall, protect their heads with their arms and wait until the danger has passed.
Up to a million people attend this week-long bull fiesta, which culminates in the morning bull runs. After the daily chase, there is a party in the old town of the 200,000-inhabitant city.
In the evening, the bulls that were chased through the streets in the morning have their second and final appearance: they are killed by professional toreros in Pamplona’s packed arena in front of 20,000 spectators. The party then continues on the streets and in the bars until late at night.
“This is the best festival in the world,” says Pamplona Mayor Enrique Maya. Naturally, animal rights activists see things differently. “Bullfighting is prehistoric,” chanted demonstrators in Pamplona before the start of this fair, celebrated in honor of the city’s patron saint, San Fermín. They demand a “San Fermín festival without blood”. The animal rights movement AnimaNaturalis has already collected 260,000 signatures.
There’s no denying that this fiesta is big business. The hotels are full, the bars and restaurants are bursting at the seams. Pamplona’s gastronomy makes around a fifth of its total annual turnover during the week-long city festival. Many residents who live along the 875-meter-long Stierhatz route rent their windows and balconies to onlookers – for 100 to 150 euros per day.
The American writer Ernest Hemingway also contributed to the boom with his novel “Fiesta”, published in 1926, in which he set a literary monument to Pamplona’s running of the bulls. The centuries-old bull-hunting tradition apparently arose from the cattle drive, in which the cattle were transferred from the pastures through the village to the stables.
What is curious is that the spectacle is for a good cause. Because the organizer is the “House of Mercy” – a non-profit organization that runs the largest retirement home in the city. The home, in which almost 600 needy seniors live, is subsidized with the proceeds from the bull festival.
Incidentally, the public television station TVE broadcasts the running of the bulls live at breakfast time. The broadcaster achieves record audience ratings. Despite this, statistics say that toreros in Spain are losing more and more followers. The younger generation in particular is turning away.