Of encierros and entierros


Our World Heritage Site of Alcalá is gearing up to hold a “running of the bulls,” or encierro, through our walkways.

This used to be the manner in which around a dozen bulls, roughly half of them tame (mansos) and half de lidia (fighting) were taken from the corral along the town streets to the bullring.

This way, the wild bulls, as herd animals, stayed within the confines of the group and remained oblivious to rags, flags and bags of any colour, avoiding accidental death in the morning.


I think this system, epitomised by Pamplona´s fiestas, the sanfermines, was a wise one, or would have been, if young, testosterone-fuelled men didn´t tie on coloured kerchiefs and run, trip, jump, fall and crawl in front of the bulls, behind them, around them, between them and, often, under them.

Surely today, too, there are more sophisticated methods of moving bulls around which would let these young and not so young Hemingways have a lie in of a weekend rather than stagger blearly-eyed at eight in the morning to a chaotic event that could take their lives. To see what I mean, check out this year´s horrific tapón in the entrance tunnel to the Pamplona bullring.

I suppose that Alcalá Town Hall´s re-introduction of the running of the bulls in recent years is only logical, given that a new bullring was built in the ensanche in 1998 to replace the old one in the heart of the city.  There is, of course, a Fiesta Taurina every year with corridos de toros, but the venue, under the guise of Leisure Circuit (Círculo de Ocio), offers other cultural events and entertainment.

Plaza de Toros de Alcalá

 So am I being a Britishly-biased killjoy if I argue that while bullfights are one thing, the running of bulls along Alcalá´s Avenida de Miguel de Unamuno is something else entirely – particularly since the Ayuntamiento regards the event as a win-win situation in which the fiestas will be “revolutionised” at no added cost?

Apparently novillos, young or sub-standard bulls, perhaps with their horns blunted, are to be used, meaning that the animals will be much less dangerous to the runners.  So maybe I´m getting all hot and bothered under the kerchief about a simple, traditional bit of fun……

Daniel Jimeno

…. in 2009,  an alcalaíno,  Daniel Jimeno Romero, was gored to death while running with the bulls in Pamplona.

There was a great outpouring of sympathy in Alcalá for this 27 year old but a press interview with his bereaved girlfriend left me totally perplexed.

Daniel, she stated, always acted responsibly when he took part in encierros up and down the country.

He never went out partying the night before running and particularly enjoyed Pamplona because of its reputation as one of the safest encierros. Apparentlymedical attention gets to runners faster there than in other places.

Aside from my inability to grasp how you can run in front of a dozen, 500 kilo bulls responsibly, I´m interested in knowing what safety assurances the alcalaínos will have from the Town Hall authorities so keen on this apparent freebie. How free, in our cash-strapped health service, is it to have a fully-equipped Samur mobile hospital parked next to the bullring?

The word encierro has a more modern meaning outwith tauromachy, one certainly more relevant  in this crisis-ridden Spain.  An encierro is a protest sit-in over issues such as labour rights, education or health care.

I can´t help thinking that Alcalá´s Ayuntamiento has found a way of channelling the aggression of young, unemployed male citizens away from political action and into mindless pursuits (nunca  mejor dicho, pardon the pun).  A subidón of life-threatening testosterone will definitely alleviate the stress of day-to-day financial worry.

Maybe forever.

Who will be the next, mortal victim of this primitive, machista, bread and circuses mentality to go straight from the encierro to his own entierro? At Dani Jimeno´s funeral, his parents declared their love for the fiesta that killed their son and his friends spoke of collecting signatures to have the name of the street on which he lived changed to Calle de Daniel Jimeno.

Yo flipo. Really,  I just don´t get it.

Do you?

Black ribbon







  1. Mo, What a very interesting article. I have mixed feelings about this kind of event .. not even sure if it should be called a “Fiesta”. I am no “Viking” but, I am from a generation of people full of passion and love to celebrate. I have attended a bull run on one occasion followed by a bull fight. I spent most of my time cringing and wanting to be physically sick with what I was seeing and remember thinking (if I was Spanish) that my children would never be allowed to do this (more to do with the now very British views and attitudes in me, I guess!). However my feelings had to be suppressed as those around me were fully enjoying this very (in my mind) dangerous “entertainment”. I would never attend another, yet I understand how these events are of great euphoric joy for many. In the UK quite often its drink and drugs that are used to enhance and fuel our pleasures in whatever we are doing and, personally I dislike, with great “passion”, the scenes I watch on the TV of young people in the UK and abroad drinking to excess then performing the most lewd and disgusting acts and, behaving in what I would consider to be a dangerous way. Young women so drunk that they are prepared to have sex in the streets with people they often don’t know or exposing themselves, flat out on the streets, so drunk they don’t know that they have hurt themselves badly (in more ways than one). Behaviour that maybe they would not do had they not consumed excessive amounts of alcohol. The behaviour of our men folk in the UK under excessive alcohol is even worse. The cost in the UK to our services not just in a financial term but also in the abuse to innocent staff just doing their job is inexcusable, yet this is passed down from generation to generation now and you even see mums and daughters getting drunk together! How do we stop this so called entertainment?

    Bull Runs and Bull Fighting is something that has a long history and is organised for entertainment and pleasure as a passionate “Fiesta”! Now if a person decides that this is their entertainment and their way of getting pleasure without spending hours just consuming alcohol, then that is for them to decide. They have made a decision with a clear head (no drinking the night before etc., etc.) and clearly knows the dangerous aspects of their decision. If you decide to put yourself “in, under, around, in front of or whatever” of some raging bull, you must expect to come out of that the loser – unless of course, you are a professional Bull Fighter. If you don’t come out of that situation then yes, I would have to agree that that person acted responsibly (but sadly lost on this occasion) … He/she knew the dangerousness of their decision and continued. What I cannot accept is the out pouring of sympathy and regrets after the event. Did you try to stop that person? maybe maybe not but it was still their decision (made with a clear head). They enjoyed their time … the excitement and all that comes with these events. So lets not expect the Authorities to cough up loads of money to support these events… let the people pay for this themselves. Each event should be organised like any other organised event and the income paid by those who want to attend, to participate, or to put their lives at risk (their choice), can be used to pay for the, medical support, policing etc etc. As for naming a street after your nearest and dearest … where would this stop? So I think not … what will be will be (lo que será, será) in a nutshell … its a passionate and generational “Fiesta” and with better organisation in terms of costing to the ayuntamiento (and us!!) let it be.

    • Hi! Thanks a lot for the longest and most complete comment on my site to date! I enjoyed your comment and largely agree with what you say – we Brits don´t behave in a rational way either and there´s not even some cultural event to blame for it. What I find tragic about the encierros is the lost of young lives, and what is inexplicable to me is that the bereaved don´t think “well maybe it is a bit of a daft and dangerous thing we could do without.” In Britain we´re sentimental about animals and I suppose that mostly the encierro bulls don´t get hurt – but sometimes they do. The lead bull, cabestrillo, was recently killed in Pamplona after the bottleneck in the tunnel. People who take part in the encierro of the sanfermines say we foreigners (includng non-northern Spaniards) cannot and will never understand the encierro fiesta. Maybe they´re right. I´ll probably mosey on down to the Alcalá encierros just to do my nosy – will report back here (maybe a sudden passion for running in front of a herd of horned animals will come upon me and I´ll get a really up close and personal report for you). Hope not! Mo.

  2. Nice piece Mo.I have been in “encierros”(including Pamplona which I didnt run but watched from a balcony) and will not be repeating my experience. I can understand the excitement,tradition etc but really it is difficult to see why so many people love this type of fiesta so much. I think it is pure passion.Passed on from generation to generation the fiesta of any pueblo is normally lived with passion. For us vikingos it is difficult to get our heads round passion.It is not just bulls.Here in Valencia it is fireworks as well.and in another place “romeria y virgenes” and the next racing horses up a street etc etc.Ever seen a “cordá” in Valencia where hundreds of rockets go off on the ground in a certain enclosed space? People enjoy the danger.of getting into that space. In the UK we dont have fiestas we tend to have festivals because fiestas are about passion…….no logic.often macho,often dangerous,cruel,pointless etc etc but they are what people have running in their veins and however much they seem senseless so many people here live them as an important love of their life.I dislike cruelty and suffering but I accept fiestas as illogical passion.I love most of them.I am not sure nowadays but in my day if thousands of people got together in the UK and got really drunk over a few days they would end up fighting,fighting the police and smashing shops windows……in the UK we just have another way of being macho,pointless etc, but rarely passionate…………………

    • Paddy, I see you´ve given the fiesta mentality a lot of thought. Maybe we “vikings” are too square-headed, worrying wbout order and safety and such things. Maybe deep down there is a sacrificial quality to these passionate activities in the sense that the odd tragedy is accepted as part of the deal. Since I´m not part of the pact (not willing to have anything happen to me or mine) maybe I overreact to the risk and fail to appreciate the liberating quality of the fiestas. And I think you´re right in saying that when the Brits let loose,it results in mindless violence. Thanks for taking the time to post such a long and helpful comment.

  3. As the son of a Beef Farmer (Who hasn’t eaten Beef this century either). I have been trampled underfoot and had a horn up the arse on many-an occasion by trying to handle farm-bred animals and have zero sympathy for anybody deliberately putting themselves in harms way infront of a specially bred machine.

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