The Running Of The Bulls In Pamplona

The yearly running of the bulls in Pamplona turns a town of 100,000 into a tourist mecca, visited by 2.5 million people.

The city of Pamplona, Spain, was originally called Pompeiopolis, after Julius Caesar's rival Pompey, who founded it in 75 b.c. as a military settlement during his campaign to put down a revolt. Pamplona is the capital of the province of Navarre in northeastern Spain. Repeatedly conquered between the fifth and ninth centuries by Visigoths, Franks, and Moors, the city in 824 a.d. became the center of the Basque kingdom of Pamplona""later called the Kingdom of Navarre.

As early as the eleventh century, Pamplona was something of a "tourist" town. It became, and still is, a stopover point for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela, the Spanish city where James, "the Beloved Disciple," is supposedly buried.

What most people outside of Spain know of Pamplona is that it is the site of the famous "running of the bulls," which Ernest Hemingway made so famous in his novel "The Sun Also Rises" (1926). The running of the bulls is actually a part of the annual Fiesta de San Fermin (Festival of Saint Fermin), which is held in honor of Pamplona's first bishop, St. Fermin. The celebration, which starts on July 6, the eve of the actual festival, lasts until July 14. Daily bullfights during the festival are preceded each morning by the famous "encierro" (literally, "enclosing") of the bulls, the activity that is popularly known as the running of the bulls. The bulls are released from a holding pen and driven through the narrow streets of the city, behind crowds of men and boys, who dodge them and try to outrace them to the bullring. In the past, the men who ran with the bulls demonstrated their bravery and their agility and skill in dodging the fierce creatures. Now, however, the crowd in the streets is grotesquely swelled by the huge numbers of foreign tourists who want in on the action. So packed are the narrow streets, that runners are scarcely able to move or maneuver, and instead of skillfully dodging the bulls, the runners often simply pile onto them and drag them to the ground.

The city's normal population is approximately 100,000, but during the week of the Fiesta de San Fermin, 2.5 million tourists arrive to witness, and perhaps participate in, the running of the bulls. They also come for the weeklong party. Many of the revelers are young men and women from other countries, including students traveling abroad. On any given day during the festival week, the city will hold between 500,000 and 750,000 people. Accommodations in the city are insufficient for such an influx of visitors, and many of them simply sleep in the streets, when they sleep at all. Even the small towns surrounding Pamplona are inundated with tourists during the week of July 6 to July 14, and buses run to Pamplona each day to transport the tourists who have rented rooms in nearby towns.

Once the festival is over, Pamplona returns to its normal state, a relatively small Spanish city unremarked by the rest of the world.

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