Spain's running of the bulls festival set to begin

6th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Over one million people are expected to jam the streets of the city of Pamplona for Spain's best-known fiesta -- the nine-day San Fermin bull-running festival which gets underway Wednesday.

The street party, popularised around the world by Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel "The Sun Also Rises", officially starts at noon with the traditional shout from the city hall balcony of "Viva San Fermin!" followed seconds later by the firing of a firecracker known as the "chupinazo".

After the firecracker is launched tens of thousands of revellers, many dressed in white with a red handkerchief tied around their necks, gather in the northern city's central square and drench each other with cheap wine.

The festival's first bull run will be held at 8 am (0600 GMT) on Thursday, when hundreds of people race ahead of six fighting bulls and six steers that charge through an 850-metre course from a holding pen to the city's bull ring.

The bull run takes on average just under four minutes and every year between 200 and 300 participants are injured. Most are hurt after falling but some are trampled or gored by the bulls despite increased safety measures.

The most recent death occurred two years ago when a bull gored a 27-year-old Spaniard to death, piercing his neck, heart and lungs with its horns in front of the hordes of tourists.

This year organisers have launched a free iPhone app in English to help revellers to assess the chances that they will emerge from the festival unharmed.

It asks users about their behaviour at the festival, including how much they have had to drink and how many hours of sleep they have received.

The daily bull runs are the highlight of the festival, which also features concerts, dancing and drinking and which ends on July 14.

In the evening the bills are killed in the bull ring and their meat is served in restaurants in the city.

The city of some 200,000 residents expects the number of people who will take part in the festival this year will be at least as much as last year when 1.5 million people turned out and hotels reported an occupancy rate of around 95 percent.

The official opening of the festival and the morning bull runs are broadcast live on public television, drawing millions of viewers.

© 2011 AFP

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