Encierro & il Palio – My stream of conciousness

Chances are you’ve heard of the Running of the Bulls in Spain, but if you’re anything like me, it’s very likely that you know very little about the actual event. Until recently, I could definitively tell you that the encierro happens in Spain… the location and date, however? That would be a very different story. Well, today – July 7 – is the first day of encierro (corral) in Pamplona, Spain. So I went searching for a bit of background on the event.

Image borrowed from: http://sanferminprensa.com/

Image borrowed from: http://sanferminprensa.com/

It all started this morning with Snapchat, which has a story category for ‘Running of the Bulls’. (Sidebar: If you have Snapchat, I highly recommend you tune into these. I can’t get enough and believe these short videos do a lot in the way of bridging perceived cultural gaps and making small connections with people from all over the world. If you do not have Snapchat.. Welcome to 2015, you should probably download it and get with the program.) Curious, I did a general google search for the history of the annual ‘encierro’, made popular in the US by Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. If you’re interested in a brief history, I recommend the Time article I posted on my Twitter feed.

From what I’ve gathered today, Hemingway is to blame for the draw of Americans to Pamplona every July for the San Fermín festival. Well, a romanticized image depicted by Hemingway along with wine filled celebrations and what may possibly be foreigners’ blatant disregard for the rules du jour.

Something about this mysterious Spanish tradition reminded me of il Palio in Siena… Maybe it’s the swarm of visitors to the regions to witness these historically brief moments linked to much deeper cultural roots, or maybe there’s just something fascinating about people engaging in risky activities with large, fast-moving animals. Who knows?

Siena begins to prepare the square for il Palio, horse race. August 2014

Siena begins to prepare the square for il Palio, horse race. August 2014

The Palio is a much less publicized (in America, at least) event that occurs twice a summer in Siena, Italy. I first learned about these centuries old bareback horse races last August when Robert and I were on a tour of Tuscany.

It is believed that the Palio dates back to the 12th century and is an extremely important event for the locals. Siena is broken up among seventeen districts and a jockey and horse ride on behalf of their district – the prize for the winner is the glory awarded them by their district. It’s a really fascinating spectacle!

The square is prepared by matting down the angular stone roads with soil, and the center of the square is crammed with visitors who stand (only the lucky, and wealthy, few get the shady seats on the perimeter) in blazing Tuscan summer temperatures for hours awaiting the, only moments-long, race around the square.

Panoramic view of "Piazza del Campo" during the historic parade just before the Palio race begins

Panoramic view of “Piazza del Campo” during the historic parade just before the Palio race begins – this is not my photo, but a stock image that offers a much better view of the square.

I think my real fascination stems from my abrupt realization that I know very little about the intricacies of so many different cultures. The Palio for instance, lasts no more than 90 seconds (Encierro lasts just over 2 minutes), and preparations begin months before, excitement and glory for the victor last a whole year after, and pride in their heritage and cultural identity runs deep. As for the rest of us, we’re just lucky enough to be a very, very, very small piece of these historical puzzles.

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