No bull: Are Pamplona’s famous traditions at risk?

The end of Pamlona's bull run?

The San Fermin festival, Pamplona. Credit: Photos Time/

Could Spain’s renowned San Fermin festival in Pamplona ever be the same without its trademark bull run? This controversial suggestion has sparked a heated debate across Spain.

In an unusual turnaround, Rakel Arjol, the newly appointed president of the Pamplona Federation of Clubs, voiced her opinions to El Diario de Navarra.

‘I would like San Fermin to be without bulls, that’s my personal opinion,’ she declared. Arjol further expressed her indifference towards the bull runs and bullfights, a sentiment that runs counter to the centuries-old tradition.

The festival, known for its adrenaline-charged bull runs through Pamplona’s cobbled streets, culminates in bullfights at the Plaza de Toros.

The ritual, which involves six fighting bulls and thousands of participants in traditional white outfits with red sashes and neckerchiefs, stretches over 800 metres, ending with the bulls’ death at the hands of matadors.

A tradition under the spotlight

The suggestion of removing bulls from the festival has stirred up a whirlwind of reactions. Alexander Fiske-Harrison, a British amateur matador and bullfighting aficionado, ridiculed the idea in The Times.

‘What do they want to run — the world’s largest frat house party? But without the bulls the young Australians and Americans would not attend anyway,’ he argued.

This sentiment reflects the significant role bulls play in drawing international crowds. The festival, made famous globally by Ernest Hemingway‘s ‘The Sun Also Rises’, celebrated its centennial of Hemingway’s first visit in 2023.

Time for a change?

Aside from tradition, the ethical treatment of bulls and human safety are central to the debate. Humane Society International highlights the killing of approximately 180,000 bulls yearly in fights, underscoring the cruelty and prolonged suffering in bullfighting arenas.

Moreover, the danger to humans is very real. In Valencia, a 61-year-old father, Jose Antonio Subies, tragically died after a bull gored him, causing severe injuries to his liver and lung.

Last year’s Pamplona festival saw at least five individuals hospitalised due to injuries sustained during the run.

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Written by

John Ensor

Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina. He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.