Running of the Bulls festival begins in Spain

8:29 PM, Jul 6, 2012   |    comments
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(Jasper Juinen / Getty Images News)

Pamplona, Spain (CNN) - Steeped in tradition, yet criticized as cruel, the Running of the Bulls means a lot more to Spain than you can imagine, especially in the current economic climate.

It's a run that takes just a few minutes; a swift race through old town Pamplona in northern Spain. Hundreds and on the busiest days, a few thousand, runners trying to stay a step ahead of the raging bulls -- six of them, to be exact, weighing about a half ton each.

It's a tradition dating back four centuries, becoming popular worldwide after author Ernest Hemingway wrote about it in his 1920s novel The Sun Also Rises. But now the Running of the Bulls, which lasts eight straight days, is just the marquee event of a much broader and very lucrative, week-long, non-stop fiesta.

Named for Pamplona's patron saint, San Fermin, the town's population of 200,000 can triple on the peak weekend of the party. Hotels are full, restaurant reservations and a place near the bar are hard to get.
Music, parades and amusement park rides aim to appeal to all ages and styles.

The most recent study on the event shows 65 percent of the visitors are under 30, but just 15 percent of them are from abroad. Yet Americans, Europeans and Asians are often among the injured in the running
some locals say the visitors don't realize the danger or take it seriously enough.

There've been 15 deaths since record keeping began in 1924, and thousands of injuries from being gored or just getting trampled. Ambulance crews line the route, from the corrals to the bullring. The bulls face certain death against matadors in the afternoon bullfights, but visitors and locals alike hope to live to tell about the big fiesta for a long time to come.


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