Abrivado (bull-running) South of France

The Abrivado

When it comes to local events from Camargue, the Abrivado is the crème de la crème. Abrivado in Provencal Language means “in a hurry, run-up, boost”. In the past the abrivado were process when the gardians, mounted cattle herdsman from Camargue, were transferring the bulls from their grazing lands to the arena. Today the abrivado became a tradition in Provence and in Languedoc where we are simulating the transfers of the bulls by letting them running in the streets, from a point to another of the city. It take place all along the year, during local festivals such as the feria, mainly in the regions of Gard (especially in the Camargue area) and Herault. Therefore, ardent horse riders love this event when a tribute is paid to the splendid bovines and horses. Horses hammer and gallop through the grounds of the street several time per day making a spectacular sight for the spectators. The abrivado can also be a test in which the gardians are tested to imprison the bulls and denying them any chance to escape.

Attrapaïres at an abrivado near Nîmes
Attrapaïres at an abrivado near Nîmes

During the abrivado several safety barriers are set up along the streets to avoid the bulls to escape. That being said, some accidents happen all along the years, especially with the tourists who are novice to this kind of events.

Abrivado barriers in Nîmes, Rue de la Republique
Abrivado barriers in Nîmes, Rue de la Republique

 

Abrivado in Nîmes, Rue de la Republique during the feria
Abrivado in Nîmes, Rue de la Republique during the feria

 

Then the gardians have to bring the bulls from a point to another (often the arena). Along the way the gardians have to avoid the attrapaïres. The attrapaïres are in provencal language, the people who try to make the bull escaping from the parkour. It often leads to a lot of tensions, fun and emotion especially when the bulls pass through the barriers or is being stopped and catch. The bulls can sometimes jump up to 2 meters high and they can also pass through the barriers by putting their horns between the bars, following by the rest of their muscular yet very flexible body. Quite fun isn’t it? The abrivados are not only organized in the streets of the cities, but also in other places such as the beach, for example the “Abrivado des Plages” in the city of Grau-du-Roi or in the city of Saintes Maries de la Mer. In some other cities the parkour of the abrivado can also pass by a river like in the city of Sommières.

Bulls at the abrivado passing the Vidourle River in Sommières
Bulls at the abrivado passing the Vidourle River in Sommières

 

Abrivado, South of France
Abrivado, South of France

The abrivado often take place at the “aperitif” time when the pastis flows abundantly, usually from 11am to 1pm and the evening from 6pm to 7.30pm. The beginning of the event is often launched by the explosion of a big firecracker. It is important to notice that the bulls used for the abrivado and the courses camarguaises are bulls native from the region of Camargue. They are quite different from the bulls used for corridas.

Gardian and a bull from Camargue. Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Camargue area
Gardian and a bull from Camargue. Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Camargue area.

The bulls from camargue (“Taureaux de Camargues” in French) are lighter, the shape of their horns are different and they are whiling to “play” with the people who stay around them. At the opposite, the bulls used for corridas are not willing to play at all, they just want nothing but to quickly kill anybody who stay on their sight. Therefore, don’t be afraid so much of the abrivado, it is fun to watch as long as you respect the safety rules, which are basically to stay behind the safety barriers. Regarding the horses they are Camargue horses (“Chevaux de Camargue” in French) native from the Camargue region. They are well-muscled, resistant and they can leave in places surrounded by water. At birth they are colored brown and once they become adult around 4 years old they become white/gray.

Few words about the ancierro

You may have heard about The Ancierro or you would probably hear about it if you are coming to a local bull festival. The ancierro looks like an abrivado because the bulls are in the streets. However, in the ancierro there is no gardians around and the bulls are just having “walk”, if we can call it so, within an area limited by barriers. The number of bulls used for the ancierro can be high, sometimes up to 6 bulls within the same area. The people around are then just playing around with the bulls, jumping above, running after them or being chased by the bulls etc… One of the most popular games at the ancierro consist in setting up a table with some chairs, one for each player, somewhere in the middle of the parkour where the bulls are supposed to pass by. On this table the players will add a bottle of drink, often pastis and they will just seat there sipping their dink. If the bulls are coming around, the winner is the last one who stayed on the chair. The losers have to drink a shot and in case of a draw all the players drink their own shots.

 Abrivado barriers Nîmes

Whether you go to an abrivado or an ancierro, it is always a real piece of fun and an impressive event to see, please play it safe and avoid doing risky things just the way many locals do.

Ben – The South of France

Credit to my very old friend from the village of Milhaud, Ludovic the gardian.

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