The firing of the traditional "chupinazo" rocket here Friday before a giant crowd of Spanish and international visitors marked the start of the nine-day San Fermin festival in this northern city.

Crowds filled the Plaza del Castillo and the surrounding area dressed in white and holding out their handkerchiefs to form a sea of red, before tying them around their necks, the perennial symbol that the revels have begun.

Pamplona's old quarter let the good time roll, with thousands of locals and tourists from around the world here to enjoy the festival immortalized in American novelist Ernest Hemingway's novel "The Sun Also Rises."

The first running of the bulls, however, will not take place until 8:00 a.m. Saturday.

Hundreds will run the 800-meter stretch down the narrow streets of the city's historic quarter ahead of six bulls.

These moments of tension and intense emotion are not without real danger, for almost inevitably someone will fall or get cornered and come away with bruises, cuts or some other injury.

A total of 15 daredevils have lost their lives in the run, the last in 2009 when 27-year-old Spaniard Daniel Jimeno Romero was killed when a bull gored him in the neck.

This year's festival is affected by the economic crisis Spain is going through, reflected in an 8 percent cut in the San Fermin budget.

Where there are no cutbacks is in the expectations and the partying fever of the thousands taking to the streets for the 431 official programmed events.

As Pamplona Mayor Enrique Maya told Efe, "If any festival is made for a time of crisis, it's San Fermin, with an infinity of events in the streets that can be so greatly enjoyed for a modest sum."

Contributing to the universal fame of San Fermin are journalists from around the world who cover the running of the bulls and the non-stop partying. This year almost 2,500 media professionals have sought accreditation.

Confirming the attendance of their reporters at the festival this year are media in Spain, France, Britain, Holland, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, United States, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Japan and Australia. EFE