is still a tremendously popular sport amongst
the Spanish today, even though it is always
the subject of much debate in regard to
animal cruelty in particular.
– lying sun floods the arena
with heavy summer light from the west.
There is a buzz
as places fill. Families jostle for space
with older, beret-bearing enthusiasts,
their faces creased with years of farm
toil, and bright young things sporting
Some clutch plastic cups of beer, others
swig red wine from animal-hide botas.
All but those who have paid
for the comfort of real seats in the shade
have bought some kind of cushion: bare concrete
or wooden slats can pull after a while on
Many have chosen to huddle on the cheap
benches facing the unforgiving midsummer
(sol). At one end of the ring,
high up in the top rows, a brass
band strikes up a stirring
paso doble, while on the opposite side the
president of the fight
and his adjutants await the arrival of the
is a spectacle with a long
history. It is not, as some suggest,
simply a ghoulish alternative
to the slaughterhouse
(itself no pretty sight). Aficionados
say the bull is better off dying at the
hands of a matador
than in the matadero
The corrida is about many things –
No doubt, the fight is bloody
it is not necessarily to understand it,
but might give an insight into some of the
thought and tradition
behind it. Many Spaniards loathe the bullfight,
but there is no doubting its overall popularity.
If on a bar – room TV
there is football on one channel and a corrida
on another, the chances are high that football
fever will cede to the fascination of the
Contests of strength, skill
and bravery between man
and beast are no recent phenomenon.
Etruscans liked a good bullfight,
and the Romans
caught on. Of course things got a little
kinky under the Romans
half the time there was no fight at all,
merely the merciless butchery of Christians
and other criminal fodder.
as the art of bullfighting is also known,
really took off in an organised fashion
in Spain in the mid – 18th
century. In the 1830s, Pedro
Romero, the greatest torero (bullfighter)
of the time, was at the age of 77 appointed
Escuela de Tauromaquia de Sevilla,
the country’s first bullfighter’s
college. It was around this time too that
breeders succeeded in creating the first
reliable breeds of
toro bravo (fighting bull).
& La Cuadrilla
young men have aspired to the ring of hope
of fame and fortune,
much as boxers have done. Most attain neither
one nor the other. Only champion
matadors make good money and some make a
loss. For the matador must rent or buy his
outfit and equipment,
pay for the right to fight the ball and
also pay his cuadrilla
you see a major
fight, you will notice this team
is made up of quite a few people. Firstly
there are several peons,
under the orders of the main
toreo, who is the matador.
come out to distract the bull with great
capes, manoeuvre him into the desired
position and so on.
Then come the horseback-mounted
picadores. Charged by the bull,
which tries to eviscerate
the horse, the picador shoves his lance
into the withers of the bull – an
activity that weakens and angers the bull.
may take small consolation from the fact
that since the 19th
century the horses at least have
been protected by heavy padding.
then return to the scene to measure their
courage against the (hopefully)
charging bull. The picador
is shortly followed by the banderilleros.
At a given moment during the fight, one
or two banderilleros
will race towards the bull and attempt to
plunge a pair of colourfully
decorated banderilleros (short
prods with harpoon- style ends) into
again aiming for the withers. This has the
effect of spurring the animal into action
– the matador
will then seek to use this to execute more
Then there is the matador
himself. His dress could be that of a flamenco
dancer. At its simplest, in country
it is generally a straight-forward combination
of black trousers
and black vest.
At its most extravagant, the
traje de luces (suit
of lights) can be an extraordinary
display of bright,
– name is apt.
All the toreros,
with the occasional exception of the matadors,
wear the black
Mickey Mouse ears hat). The torero’s
standard weapons are the estoque
and the heavy silk and percale capa
You will notice, however, that the matador,
and the matador
alone, employs a different cape with the
sword – a smaller piece of cloth held
with a bar of wood called
the muleta and used for a number
of different passes.
all that takes place in one day of a corrida
is no easy task. In many cases, corridas
are held over several days, or even weeks,
and the whole fiesta is known as the feria.
are transported from their farms
to a location near the ring, often days
in advane. In Madrid,
they are kept at an Andalucian-style
ranch in the Casa
know as Batan
In some towns,
the bulls are bought to another point in
town from where they are let loose on the
morning of the corrida to charge to the
ring. The encierro,
as it is known, in Pamplona
was made famous by Earnest
but score of towns across the country celebrate
are set up along a route to the ring, and
some people feel inclined to run with the
It’s a dangerous
business and people get hurt, sometimes
When the bulls
arrive, the cuadrillas, president
get together to look over the animals
and draw lots to see who is going to fight
with which one. It depends a little on how
are represented, how many matadors
and teams there are and so on.
balls are later huddled into darkened
where they await their moment.
generally begins at 6
hence the title of Hemingway’s
on the subject, Death
in the Afternoon.
As a rule six
and three matadors
are on the day’s card. If any bulls
are considered not up to scratch,
they are booed off (at this point the president
will display a green handkerchief)
and replacements brought on. Each fight
takes about 10
to 15 minutes
the fateful moment comes, the corral
Light gushes in and the bull
charges out, sensing a chance to escape.
You wonder if it feels disappointed as it
out into the ring to be confronted by the
darting about and flashing their
rose-and-yellow coloured capes
at the heaving beast. The matador then appears
and executes his faens
with the bull.
To go into the complexities of what constitutes
a fine faena would require a book.
Suffice to say,
the more closely and calmly the toreo
works with the bull,
before the bull’s
horns, the greater will be the crowds
approbation. After a little of this, the
strides off and leaves the stage first to
then the banderilleros,
before retuning for another session. At
various moments during the fight,
the brass band will hit some stirring notes,
adding to the air of grand spectacle.
The moves must be carried out in certain
parts of ring, which is divided into three
parts: the medios
(an intermediate, chalked-off
ring); and tablas
(the outer ring).
When the bull
seems tired out and unlikely to give a lot
more, matador chooses his moment for the
himself head-on, he aims to sink the sword
cleanly into the animal’s
for an instant kill. It’s easier
said than done.
followed by a clean kill will have the crowd
on its feet waving handkerchiefs
in the air in clear appeal to the president
to award the matador an oreja
of the animal.
usually waits to assess the crowd’s
before flopping a white handkerchief
onto his balcony.
If the fight was exceptional, the matador
might cortar dos
– cut two ears off. On rare occasions
may be awarded the tail as well. What he
does with them when he gets home is anyone’s
The sad carcass is meanwhile dragged out
by a team of dray-horses
and the sand raked about in preparation
for the next bull.
The meat ends up in the butchers.
are mainly a spring
but it is occasionally possible to see at
other times. The season begins more or less
officially in the first week of February
with the fiestas
to mark the feast day of San
Virtually all encierros
are organised as part of the town’s
fiesta or other.
Comunidad de Madrid,
for instance, therre are any number of local
and the encierros
can be a wild and unpredictable affair.
In many towns the
serves a makeshift bullring. Often, the
small-town fights are amateurish affairs
known as capeas.
in the world is that held in Madrid over
four weeks from mid-May as part of the
Fiesta de San isidro.
magazines such as the weekly 6
Toros 6 carry full details of who’s
fighting, where and when. When fights are
coming up locally, gaudy
posters advertise the fact and give
ticket information. In addition to the top
which attract the `name’ matadors
and big crowds, there are plenty of lesser
ones in the cities, towns and villages.
These are often novilleras,
in which immature
are fought by junior
In small places the
plaza mayor may serve as a makeshift
If you are spoiling
for a fight, look out for the big names.
They are no guarantee
you’ll see a high-quality corrida,
as that depends in no small measure on the
themselves, but it is a good sign. The last
true star of the fiesta,
Dominguin, a hero
of the 1940s and 50s, died in 1996. Another
maestro was Rafael
Ortega (1921-97). Their present-day
successors count among their number some
fine performers, but perhaps none of their
Names to look for include: Jesulin
de Ubrique, a true
macho whose attitudes to woman don’t
go down well with everyone; Enrique
Ponce, a serious class act; Joselito
(Jose Miguel Arroyo); Rivera
Ordoñez; Julian ‘El
Juli’Lopez’, a recently-arrived
teenage sensation; Curro
Romero, born in the 1920s and still
Tomas; and Manuel
‘El Cordobes’ Diaz, one
of the biggest names, although for some,
of his style boarders on mocking the animal
and is considered unnecessarily cruel. He
is not the only one to go by the name El
Cordobes. One of the older hands
to use it is Manuel
Benitez, who at 63 years of age,
decided to get back into the ring in 2000
just for the fun of it!
Ethics of the
Is the bullfight
are frequently inflamed by the subject.
Many people feel ill at the sight of the
kill, although merciful
relief and surly no worse than being lined
up for the production - line kill in an
abattoir. The preceding 10 or so minutes
of torture are cruel. The animal
frightened and in pain. Let there be no
doubt about that. Aficionados
will say, however, that these bulls
have been bred for conflict
and that their lives before this fateful
day are better than those of farm animals.
are treated like Kings.
To other western cultures-and to many Spaniards
too – the bullfight
yet there is something about this direct
confrontation with death that invites reflection.
As an integral part of Spanish culture,
it deserves to be experienced; there is
nothing to say that anyone should also like
Footnote (updated 08/2015)
Bullfighting was banned in the Spanish autonomous community of Catalonia by a vote of the Catalan Parliament in July 2010. The ban came into effect on 1 January 2012. The last bullfight in the region took place in Barcelona in September 2011.
The ban, which ended a centuries-old tradition in the region, was supported by animal rights activists but opposed by some, who saw it as motivated by political nationalism rather than animal welfare.
There is a movement to revoke the ban in the Spanish congress, citing the value of bullfighting as "cultural heritage". The proposal is backed by the majority of parliamentarians.
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