Thousands of people celebrated Wednesday as traditional fireworks marked the start of the festival of San Fermín in Pamplona, Spain.
The festival is famous around the world for its traditional “running of the bulls” event.
The festival returned for the first time since 2019 after it had been cancelled for two years because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Rain did not affect the excitement of the crowds. Nearly all wore traditional white and red clothes for the event. The small center of the town, the town square, was filled with people watching the start of the festival.
The highlight of the nine-day festival is the early morning “encierros,” or running of the bulls which starts on Thursday. Thousands of people are expected to take to the streets and avoid six bulls as they run down the old town streets to the city’s bullring.
Other people watch from buildings or behind wooden walls set up along the area. The festival is noted for eating, drinking, dancing, and cultural events.
The festival was made famous by the American writer Ernest Hemingway in his 1926 book The Sun Also Rises. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival had not been suspended since the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.
Former soccer player and coach Juan Carlos Unzué had the honor of launching fireworks from town hall. Unzué retired from coaching in 2018 after he learned he had the disease called ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Unzué told to the crowd that the tradition was “dedicated to all those health workers and people who helped us during the pandemic, and to all those suffering from ALS.” Then he shouted, “Long live San Fermín.”
Pamplona’s population of about 200,000 becomes nearly one million on the busiest days of the festival, especially on the weekends. Foreigners join the celebrations and many visitors do not stop partying throughout the night. Some find somewhere to sleep outside.
City officials have urged people to not forget that coronavirus infections are on the rise again and supported the use of face coverings. But the activities and parties will make that difficult to follow.
Normally, the festival is mostly incident-free with most injuries happening during the runs or because of alcohol.
Eight people were gored during the last festival in 2019. Sixteen people have died in the bull runs since 1910. The last death happened in 2009.
Animal rights protesters have also become part of the festival in Pamplona. The night before this year’s festival, a number of activists dressed as dinosaurs and held “Bullfighting is Prehistoric” signs. They ran with the signs on the path of the bull-run to protest what they see as animal cruelty, urging visitors to not join.
The bulls in the runs are killed by professional bullfighters, called matadors, in events each afternoon in the city ring.
Bullfights are protected under the Spanish Constitution as part of the country’s cultural heritage. The event is still very popular even as those against it have gained support. The Cultural Ministry of Spain says 90 percent of Spaniards did not attend any festival event involving bulls in the 2014 to 2015 season.
I’m Anna Matteo.
David Biller reported this story for The Associated Press. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
festival –n. a special time or event when people gather to celebrate something
bull – n. an adult male animal of the ox and cow family
spray – v. to put a stream of small drops of liquid on (someone or something)
bullring – n. a large circular area in which bullfights take place
coach – n. a person who teaches and trains an athlete or performer
dedicate – v. to officially make (something) a place for honoring or remembering a person or event
gore – v. to wound (a person or another animal) with a horn or tusk
cruelty – n. actions that cause suffering
heritage – n. the traditions, achievements, or beliefs that are part of the history of a group or nation
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