The annual ritual leaves dozens injured every year, but the fate of the bulls is far worse. While revelers danced and doused each other with wine, animal rights activists protested the cruel killing of the bulls.
Thousands of partiers decked out in red and white clothing danced and sprayed each other with red wine on Wednesday to mark the kick-off of San Fermin's running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
The nine-day festival began at midday with cries of "Viva San Fermin!" in front of city hall. It was followed moments later with the setting-off of a firecracker known as a "chupinazo."
This year was the first time the person who set off the chupinazo was selected by popular vote.
Six candidates were put forth by city hall, and the winner was 85-year-old Jesus Ilundain Zaragueta. He took part in his first Pamplona bull run when he was 15, and continued for the next 50 years or so.
He told a local newspaper, Diario de Navarra, that "San Fermin is celebrated in heaven. I am convinced."
The festival, which dates back to medieval times, honors the patron saint of Spain's northern Navarra region - San Fermin. It includes religious processions and all-night parties, in addition to the spine-tingling daily bull runs, which sometimes end in death, that have made it famous.
The festival was further immortalized in Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel "The Sun Also Rises" and attracts thousands of visitors from across the globe.
Every morning at 8:00 am hundreds gather for nearly four minutes of sheer terror. Along with six large bulls, they race along a winding, course of 850-meters (little more than half a mile).
They run through narrow streets to the city's bull ring. The bravest, or perhaps the most foolish, run as close to the bulls as possible while trying to avoid being gored.
Dozens are hospitalized each year, although most of the injuries are not the result of being gored by the bulls' horns, but from runners falling and being trampled by the animals. Fifteen people have been killed since 1911 (including a French tourist last year), when modern recording keeping began.
Animal rights protesters covered in fake blood demonstrate for the abolition of bull runs and bullfights in Pamplona
The bulls are far less fortunate - after their morning run they are killed in afternoon bullfights.
About 50 semi-naked animal rights activists, smeared with fake blood, protested outside Pamplona's bullring on Tuesday holding signs that read: "Pamplona: Bloodbath for bulls" in several languages.
bik/kms (AFP, AP)