On the 6th of July, at 4.30 in the afternoon, Sanfermin tradition dictates that everyone should gather for the riau-riau. Nowadays, the motivation is rather differentto the original reason. Up until 1991 the aim of the gathered crowdwas to slowup the procession of the City Council when it set off for The Church of San Lorenzo on the eve of the saint’s day. However, City Hall found the occasion more and more untenable and the event was eliminated from the official programme. En essence, it was a rather simple event. Themunicipal band, “La Pamplonesa” played a set piece of music “el Valls de Astráin” and the people danced, sang, drank and blocked the route for as long as possible.
The route is not very long as it covers the stretch between City Hall and The Church of San Lorenzo, through the San Saturnino and Calle Mayor streets. In this tight area of about 500 meters long and about six meters wide, thousands gather along the route, along with The Giants, the street musicians, etc.
The ambience is as crushed as it is exciting, like most things are during these Sanfermin fiestas. The same waltz is played over and over in an almost obsessive way and the rhythm is slow and measured. When the dayis particularly hot many people from the balconies throw water down on the packed multitude to give them some relief. If you suffer from claustrophobia then this event, like the “Chupinazo” and the “apartado”, are not advisable places to be.
After the suspension of the event in 1991, there were various attempts made to retrieve the event, but none of them managed to stick. However, in 2002, after eleven years of “cold turkey” of the “riau-riau”, various associations of senior citizens made a call for its restoration and got considerable support from their age-group.
In 2003, they repeated the gathering, and although it continues to be kept off the official program, the event has gathered momentum since then. In 2004,themunicipal brass band, “La Pamplonesa” re-joined the event, so that the only element lacking from the original riau-riau remains the political members of City Hall.
Thus, there are now less pushing and shoving and attempts at blocking the route. What remains is the excitement, the dancing, the afternoon heat, which is always accompanied by plentiful amounts of beverages of all kinds.