The start of the fiestas in honour of the patron saint of Pamplona is marked by the firing of a rocket - the Chupinazo. On the 6th July, a mass of revellers congregate in front of the Town Hall to witness one of the most moving moments in the San Fermin fiestas. Shortly before midday, all the municipal councillors come out onto the Town Hall balcony from where twelve rockets announcing the start of the fiestas will be fired. In the square below, a sea of red kerchiefs are held high in the air, as locals and visitors alike anxiously wait to knot their kerchiefs around their necks. At that very moment, the councillor chosen to fire the rocket addresses the crowd and shouts "Pamploneses, Viva San Fermin, Gora San Fermin" (People from Pamplona, Long Live St Fermin). The response is immediate, an explosion of jubilation, of mass craziness invades the square and its vicinity, full of people uncorking bottles of champagne, singing and dancing to the sound of the street bands and who have no intention of resting until the 15th July. You need to consider that there can be moments of stress and pressure, together with the suffocating heat, due to the mass of people present in this relatively small square. And, although no serious incidents have occurred, people are frequently cut by glass from broken bottles on the ground.

It's best to get to the square at least one hour before the rocket is due to be fired, to get a good place and to enjoy the pre-fiesta atmosphere. Ten minutes before midday, the ones who have still not managed to get in, start to push their way through the crowd, creating small avalanches and a feeling of suffocation. It is definitely not advisable to take children to the square as they run the greatest risk. The streets surrounding the square are a good alternative for starting the fiestas. These are less crowded but offer the same festive atmosphere. A giant screen is installed in the Plaza del Castillo square, with live viewing of the events in the Town Hall square. Another screen is located in the Paseo de Sarasate walk, which is an ideal place for families with toddlers.

The red kerchief is essential, but it should not be knotted around your neck until the rocket is fired at midday; tie it around your wrist or keep it in a pocket until required. Immediately after the rocket, it is the custom to knot the kerchief around your neck and leave it there until the closing ceremony of Pobre de Mi on the 14th. It is also advisable to have a bottle of champagne, which can be purchased in the streets surrounding the square.

With regard to the rest of your clothing, this is not the best day to wear items of quality. Whilst waiting for the rocket, many people in the crowd enjoy spraying litres of drink, which will more than likely end up on your clothes. You should also wear sturdy shoes - anything can be dropped on the ground.

At the end of the opening ceremony, it is the custom to leave the Town Hall square by the streets of Chapitela and Mercaderes.

El Pobre de mí - Closing act

The San Fermin fiestas officially end on the 14th July. The people from Pamplona gather in front of the town hall balcony and solemnly end the eight days of festivities just experienced. At twelve midnight a mass of lit candles are sadly waved after the mayor has announced the end of the fiestas. The song which has given its name to this final act will be sung throughout the night: "Pobre de mí, pobre de mí, que se han "acabao" las fiestas de San Fermín” (Poor old me, poor old me, the San Fermin fiestas have ended). Despite this, the celebrations continue until dawn.

The start and end of the San Fermin fiestas are celebrated at the same place, with the same protagonists and at the same hour. However the "Pobre de Mi" is the very antithesis of the Chupinazo in which the rocket is fired to mark the start of the fiestas. Now it is night instead of day, sadness instead of gaiety, accumulated tiredness instead of a desire to have fun. As on the 6th July, a crowd of people concentrate in the Town hall square shortly before midnight. At 12 o'clock on the dot, the mayor appears on the balcony to end the fiestas and, addressing the people, he declares: "There's not long to go before the glorious fiesta of San Fermin" and he urges everyone to take part in the San Fermin fiestas of the following year. The crowd then sings the "Pobre de Mí" whilst hundreds of candles are lit to illuminate the darkness of the night. The custom is then for everyone to take off their red scarves as a sign that the fiestas are officially over.

From the adjoining Plaza de los Burgos square, a series of rockets are set off to mark the end of the fiestas. The people from Pamplona must then get used to the idea of returning to normality. Many will continue with the fiestas for a few more hours before finally taking off their red scarves.

Tips: To fully participate in the Pobre de Mi, you need to have a candle. If you forget to bring one, you can buy one on the street, as you get closer to the Town hall. Once there, let yourself be moved by the atmosphere and sing an emotive “Pobre de mí”, together with the “ya falta menos” (there's not long to go) and other songs marking the end of the fiestas.

As an alternative to the official act, the Peñas hold their own particular fiesta in the Plaza del Castillo square. They are easily distinguished by their banners and their members dancing to the bands. Given the fact that, at this time, there are few bars open to allow you to continue festivities, the "Pobre de Mi" of the Peñas is a good opportunity for prolonging the evening.

A third point of encounter is the Plaza del Consejo square, although this does not appear in the official program. For the last 26 years the end of the fiestas has been celebrated here with considerable success, with hundreds of persons coming to this square to sing and dance, holding their red scarves in the air. The members of the El Chanclazo Peña were the first to come to this square on the last night of San Fermines and they come there ever since.

The Peñas

A Peña is a group of people or friends sharing a common enthusiasm for the San Fermin fiestas, set up as a society in order to take part in the organisation and enjoyment of the events held during the fiestas. The Peñas are an essential part of the bull fighting and the music from their bands enlivens the street atmosphere, providing non-stop entertainment throughout the fiestas. The majority of the Peñas are located in premises in the Jarauta street and surrounding area, offering a very special San Fermin atmosphere of nine days of non-stop fun. During their impromptu parades through the Old Part of Pamplona, the Peñas carry banners depicting episodes of the city life.

The first Peñas were founded in the mid 19th century, when groups of friends used to get together to go to the bullring and enjoy the fiestas. At that time Pamplona was but what is now known as the Old Part, a city with very few leisure options. Those first Peñas, with names such as El Trueno, La Ochena, La Cuatrena and El Llavín, paraded through the streets carrying simple banners with cartoons and greetings to the few foreigners present at the fiestas. A few players of the Dulzaina (Spanish double reed instrument), Txistu (Spanish flute) and guitar were the inspiration behind the tradition of the present-day bands, filling the streets with music, offering special, cheerful, catchy tunes. Music which started to be played from the thirties onwards, written by the composer Manuel Turrillas, specifically created for the San Fermin fiestas.

From 1950 - 1970, relations between the various Peñas were fluid and co-operative when preparing the San Fermin events. This spirit of goodwill was also extended to the collaboration of the Peñas with the City Council and other official bodies. The "formal" establishment of the Peñas Commission in 1959 was a milestone event, allowing the Peñas to act together when presenting their concerns over the Dianas (early morning reveilles), bull running, attendance at the San Fermin procession, payment of the bands of musicians, subsidies, festivals of the Peñas, post bull-fight parades, season tickets for the bullfight, etc. From 1964 - 1979, the Jito-Alai open air dances were organised by the Irrintzi, Alegría and La Jarana Peñas, an initiative suggested by the City Council.

There have also been occasions on which the work of the Peñas has been recognised, such as the silver medal granted by the Ministry of Information & Tourism to the Peñas of Pamplona for services to tourism. During that same year, the warm reception given to the film artists and foreign reporters from the International Film Festival of San Sebastian, when visiting the San Fermin fiestas, was rewarded with the Silver Shell at the festival.

Currently there are a total of 16 Peñas, which were founded at different dates during the 20th century. The first was La Única, established in 1903, followed by Muthiko Alaiak in 1931, El Bullicio Pamplonés (1932), La Jarana (1940), Oberena (1941), Aldapa (1947), Anaitasuna (1949), Los del Bronce (1950), Irrintzi (1951), Alegría de Iruña (1953), Armonía Txantreana (1956), Donibane (1977), La Rotxa (1978), 7 de julio San Fermín (1979) and San Jorge (1980).

During the San Fermin fiestas, the Peñas are the undisputed protagonists of the seats in the sun in the afternoons at the bullring. These were the cheapest seats, affordable by their working class members. The heat combined with the desire for revelry, was and still is an open invitation to spend the afternoon drinking and eating, enlivening the atmosphere far beyond what is actually happening in the bullring. Yet more Peñas were founded in the seventies, getting the high cheap seats on the sunny side of the ring (Andanada), which means that the Peñas as a whole now occupy the majority of the seats in the sun.

The Peñas are present throughout each day of the festivities. Half-way through the morning, the Peñas go out onto the streets, with their banners, in an impromptu parade through the Quarters, accompanied by the music of their bands, stopping for a drink from time to time and offering the neighbourhood an improvised open-air concert. Each Peña has two banners, one for adults the other for children, and which are carried round by its members throughout the fiestas. Full of humour, these banners feature cartoons and caricatures of key events occurring over the past year. The subtly imposed by the period of political censor has long been abandoned subtly when creating these banners, which now clearly depict views on topics and persons from anywhere in the world, although local topics are the key source of inspiration. Each particular Peña is also distinguished by its attire - each society has its own coloured smock with the coat of arms of the Peña. Members also wear a kerchief of a particular colour, but not red.

The afternoon starts with the preparations for the bullfight, which can take some time as they have to prepare the drinks which are carried to the ring in buckets, pans of Aojarriero (cod in tomato and garlic sauce) and other devices for the revelries at the ring. Followed by their inseparable bands, the Peñas join the procession of mules in a festive atmosphere as they head towards the ring. After the bullfighting the Peñas parade through the passageway leading out of the ring, carrying their banners, and followed by their bands. This traditional ritual is called the "Salida de las Peñas" (exit of the Peñas). From there, each Peña heads in the direction of its headquarters. The Peña members meet up at their premises for supper and to start a night of revelry. The streets of Jarauta and Navarrería, where the majority of the Peñas' headquarters are located, are filled with this special atmosphere, enlivened by the music of their bands and San Fermin gaiety.

Although the Peñas were created for and as a result of the fiestas of San Fermin, their members meet up and organise a number of culinary, cultural and sporting events throughout the year. The celebration of the San Fermin "ladder" is well known, whereby they celebrate with an evening meal on each of the days mentioned in the song: first of January, second of February, third of March, fourth of April, fifth of May, sixth of June, seventh of July... ¡San Fermin!.


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