. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pamplona Readies for Bull Run Fiesta

MADRID -- Teams of carpenters put the finishing touches to barriers lining Pamplona's famous bull run Friday as thousands of visitors flocked to the city for a riotous nine-day party.


The annual San Fermin festival, made famous by Ernest Hemingway in his 1926 novel "The Sun Also Rises," draws crowds of foreigners lured by the thrill of the traditional running of the bullw through the city's narrow cobbled streets.


The less courageous come for more than 200 hours of wild celebrations involving oceans of alcohol, a smattering of religious ceremonies and daily bullfights in the city's arena.


The population of this city, on the edge of the Pyrenean mountain range in northeast Spain, swells from 200,000 to about half a million during the fiesta, which attracts armies of Americans and Australians.


Many of them, their courage boosted by heavy drinking, risk life and limb running ahead of six fighting bulls on an 825-meter dash from the animals' corral to the bullring.


The start of the early-morning run is signalled by a single blast of fireworks at 8 a.m. local time.


The half-ton bulls charge out, scattering before them hundreds of runners.


Many runners wear a traditional Basque outfit of starched white trousers and shirt with a red sash, scarf and beret.


A team of 16 herdsmen armed only with rods make sure the main herd stays together for the run, which lasts between two and three minutes.


The festival has claimed 13 lives this century, most recently a 22-year-old American who was gored last summer, and every year there are scores of casualties.


Many Americans who have adopted San Fermin as part of their cultural heritage find their vacation ends in hospital, as fatigue and lack of experience trip them up in front of the charging bulls.


Australians, however, are more likely to fall prey to the Angel's Jump, which involves hurling themselves off a five-meter fountain into the arms of compatriots who are often too drunk to catch them.


Experienced runners, mainly locals for whom it is a tradition handed down from father to son, only keep up for a few hundred meters, ducking into a doorway or behind the wooden barriers that line the streets during the fiesta.


They say inexperienced foreigners present as much of a danger to their fellow runners as the bulls and advise beginners to get a good night's sleep and always to look behind them while they run.


Other key points of advice are: never wear slip-on shoes, boots with heels or sandals; and, in case of trouble, throw yourself on the ground or slide underneath a rampart.


The festival dates from 1591 when its purpose was purely practical -- getting six hefty animals from the edge of town to Pamplona's tightly-enclosed bullring. A handful of onlookers decided to run in front of the animals in the 17th century and slowly the fiesta grew.


But it was only in the 1920s, when Hemingway witnessed the unbridled celebrations honoring the city's patron saint, that the festival really took off.