Having lived in Pamplona all my life, I firmly believe there is no sound more characteristic of San Fermines than the one of the Pamplona Peñas. You can’t miss them.
When you are walking down the street in Pamplona during the San Fermin and suddenly find yourself surrounded by a tumultuous group of people dancing and singing in a chaotic way, cheer yourself up! You have encountered the famous Peñas of Pamplona. These groups of local citizens patrol the streets of the Old Part of the town, singing, dancing, laughing, playing traditional songs, and maintaining the spirit of the fiestas. The Peña’s are similar to a fraternity/sorority or a social club, and their 200-400 active adult members pay an initiation fee and monthly dues.
There are currently sixteen Peñas, the oldest one, “La Unica” goes back to 1903, and the others have been gradually founded since then; 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, the newest one, San Jorge (1980). Peñas like La Unica and Los del Bronce have Spanish names, while others such as Armonía Txantreana and Muthiko Alaiak sport Basque influenced names.
They originally came up as groups of friends, who wanted to enjoy the parties together. After years of collaboration within each other, they collectively met with the City Council to make their relationship with Pamplona official. In 1959, the first Peñas Commission was officially established and they became legally regulated. Since they play such a big part of the San fermin experience, each Peña receives a subsidy from the city to cover their expenses during the festival.
Each Peña has a custom and distinct insignia, serving at their proud coat of arms. You can see these is all different forms. They also wear customized shirts with their shield and sometimes their own “pañuelos” with the Peña’s colors. They can also be distinguished by the immense banners they carry wherever they go, in which they capture/feature different cartoons expressing the most important and polemical political issues of the current year. No telling what they will come up with for 2020 and 2021!
During the week of the 7th of July, they have a busy schedule. In the mornings they parade through the streets, stopping every few blocks to play concerts for the neighborhoods and tourists. In the evening, they get ready for the bull fight, and if there is one part of the festival that stands out to me the most regarding the Peñas, it would be their role at the bull fights. While the aficionados take in the event from the shaded side of the arena, the Peñas are located on the sunny part of the ring. They are among the first to arrive in the stadium, looking to start the party for the 20,000 people who attend each night. They ignite a chaotic entertainment, playing music nonstop, eating and drinking. I should clarify that the eating and drinking usually consists of throwing food and drenching each other in sangria. It should be said that if you are very interested in the bull fight, you should avoid sitting next to them, or otherwise you won’t be able to pay attention to it! When the spectacle ends, the famous “Salida de las Peñas” begins. The group jump to the arena floor where they exit the ring and go towards their social clubs, mostly located on Calle Jarauta. This walk, usually lasts two hours due to the large amounts of people that wait outside to join them, and dance to their music through the streets.
Although they were created mainly for the San Fermin festival, they also do several activities throughout the year. They celebrate the San Fermin “ladder” by having a meal on the 1st of January, 2nd of February, 3rd of March, 4th of April, 5th of May, and 6th of June.
While the Peñas are very public in appearance, they are very private regarding membership. Not many people in Pamplona are lucky enough to be part of one of them. Parents usually pass their membership to their children, and this added to the limited number of members every Peña has, making it even more difficult to get a spot. It’s a good thing they offer their entertainment for free!
Since the San Fermin is an international event, there have been an influx of Peñas formed by foreigners who view Pamplona as their second home. Groups from Sweden, Germany, the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand have formed their own groups and started traditions.