Some holidaymakers will return home from Spain this year having been to see a bullfight. They’ll have the poster, a furry bull and perhaps even the t-shirt to prove it. For some a trip to a bullfight is a rite of passage associated with living in Spain. You can’t knock it ‘till you’ve seen it, the argument goes. But how long you will be able to do this is up for debate. Barcelona voted recently to ban bullfighting but it is still not against the law in Spain’s second city.
Fighting with a bull is certainly nothing new; at the Minoan palace of Knossos in Crete there are frescoes dating back 4,000 years which depict men and women confronting bulls.
But it was the Romans who turned fighting animals into a major source of public entertainment, their crowded amphitheatres running with blood.
However, bulls also played an important role in the religious ceremonies of the Iberian tribes who lived in Spain in prehistoric times. Scholars believe that it is their Celtic-Iberian temples, where those ceremonies were held that are the forerunners of the plazas de toros (bullrings) that we see today.
In 711 AD the Moors conquered Spain and displayed their superior riding skills by turning the fight into a more stylised contest between a man on horseback and a bull.
For hundreds of years it remained very much the sport of the nobles, a diversion only open to those able to ride and train the highly skilled horses.
The aristocracy were responsible for breeding the bulls - the toro bravo - a species of bull descended from an ancient bloodline that is preserved in Spain.
But in the 18th century the tradition changed once more when the poorer population invented bullfighting on foot.
These new matadors became key figures in the ring dressed in their flamboyant suits of light and using their capes to lure the bulls into better striking positions for the fighters on horseback.
Around 1726 Francisco Romero from Ronda lay down the rules for the new sport. He introduced the sword, and the muleta, the small cape used in the last part of the fight.
With the codification of the rules and the appointment of Pedro Romero, the greatest matador at that time, as the head of the Escuela de Tauromaquia de Sevilla, the country's first bullfighters' college, the sport really took off.
The bullfight remains very much unchanged since those times and is traditionally a male sport that blares out every afternoon from televisions in all Spanish bars. It is only in recent years that we have seen the appearance of women fighters with Cristina Sánchez the most famous.
But those against the sport argue that despite the deaths of matadors the odds are heavily stacked against the bull and that they suffer unnecessary torment.
There are reports of the bulls being given tranquillisers, laxatives and even beatings to debilitate them before the fight.
Petroleum jelly is said to be rubbed into their eyes to blur their vision and they are allegedly kept in darkness for hours so that they are dazzled by the afternoon sun when released.
Ernest Hemingway spoke of the morals of bullfighting in his famous book on the subject, Death in the Afternoon.
"I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after," he wrote. For now it’s a matter of choice how you feel.