The Bull Run Barricades: Engineering the Insanity

The Bull Run Barricades: Engineering the Insanity

Every July, the streets of Pamplona, Spain transform as thousands of daredevils gather for the Running of the Bulls. Central to this age-old tradition are the barricades that line the bull run route, which help guide the bulls to the Plaza de Toros and which protect the onlookers on the other side of the fence. Read on to learn all about the barricades that give a little structure to the chaos of the bull run.

The Anatomy of the Barricades

The bull run route, stretching 850 meters from the pen at Santo Domingo to the bull ring, and the additional 450-meter pathway (from the Corrals de Gas to the Santo Domingo pens), are safeguarded by a complex system of fencing. This extensive barricade system comprises 13,000 individual components, including nuts, bolts, wall brackets, washers, wooden wedges, 900 vertical posts, and 2,700 horizontal planks. Each piece is marked with a specific letter and number to ensure accurate placement year after year.

Erection of the fencing begins at the end of June, with most sections remaining up until the conclusion of the San Fermin fiestas. However, to prevent traffic disruption, some sections are installed daily and dismantled by a dedicated team of 40 carpenters after each bull run.

Craftsmanship and Materials

The primary material used in the construction of the barricades is pinewood sourced from the Roncal Valley and Huesca regions. Additionally, some planks are made from elm wood that is over 100 years old, contributing a sense of historical continuity to the structure. To withstand the immense force of 600 kg bulls charging at full speed, all horizontal planks and vertical posts are reinforced with metal plates and securely anchored in 40 cm deep holes (which remain covered for the rest of the year).

A notable feature of the barricades is the strategically placed gateways along the route, such as the gate at La Curva de Estafeta or "Dead Man's Corner." These gates are closed sequentially as the bulls pass, preventing any chance of the animals doubling back and enhancing the safety of both runners and spectators.

Historical Evolution

The tradition of the bull run dates back centuries. Initially, makeshift barriers made of blankets and carts were used to guide the bulls along the correct path; unsurprisingly, these methods proved insufficient and unsafe, and in time they were replaced. By 1776, the Pamplona City Council implemented wooden fencing to prevent bulls from escaping into the streets, marking the beginning of a more organized approach to the event's safety.

A significant upgrade occurred in 1941 after an incident on July 8, 1939, when a bull named "Liebrero" from the Cobaleda Sanchez herd broke through the sole existing fence, causing serious injury to a spectator and requiring intervention by the civil guard, which shot and killed the bull. In response, a double-fence system was introduced, featuring a two-meter gap between the front and back fences, vastly improving the robustness and reliability of the barricades. Today, police and medics are stationed behind the first row of barricades, and onlookers can line up behind the second row of barricades.

A 250-Year Old Tradition

It can be hard to believe that the safety structures used during the bull runs today are nearly identical to those used in 1776. Nearly 250 years after they were first designed, Pamplona's network of wooden barricades has become a symbol of all the tradition, anticipation, and danger wrapped up in the festival of San Fermín. If you're coming to Pamplona for the San Fermín fiestas this July, take a moment to check out the barricades and appreciate the engineering and craftsmanship that helps make it all possible.



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