Bullfighting In Spain

Written by Aksel Ritenis
bullfighting-spainThis sport is considered to be very national, and maybe that is the reason why it is so hard to understand and feel for the non-spaniards. Bullfighting has been organised in Portugal and Southern France as well, but only Spain is reputed to be the true home of Corrida and even now it is arousing interest and clamour all over the world.

Only in some places under the burning sun these fights do not happen, everywhere else in Spain they are called Fiesta Nacional – the national sport. Formany people all over the world Spain is primarily associated with bullfihting. The oldest Corrida spot in Spain is at the Ronda village in the south of Spain in Andalusia, and even though the fights do not take place there anymore it is possible to go there and even visit the museum.

These fights have a longstanding history. Already in ancient Rome the gladiators also fought against bulls. If we trust the historical facts then the first bullfight in Spain occurred in honour of king Alfons VIII coronation inapproximately 711. Thousands of this country’s people still gather in the arenas almost every weekend, for the bullfight season lasts from March till October, beginning at the first week of February with the festivities of Valdemorillo and Ajalvir near Madrid to celebrate the San Blas holiday. The most magnificent and popular fights or crème de la crème happen in Madrid and last for a month. They start in the middle of May when the town celebrations in honour of San Isidoro take place.

Initially the bullfights were only for the noblemen and the combatants faced the enraged animals sitting on a horse. Around 1724 alterations were made and the fights became a kind of “unorthodox dance with death” because the adversaries battled “eye for an eye”. Maybe the alterations came after the king Philip V interdiction for the noblemen to engage in this sport and everyone was allowed to defy the bull? Maybe the spectators needed more adrenaline and blood? The star of the team is the matador who ravishes the audience with his skills and courage. Imagine how dexterous a combatant has to be, how well he has to know the moves, strength and tactics of his adversary! Just one wrong or unskilful movement and… you can be seriously injured or “not even amongst the living any longer”.

In one 20 minute long face-off a succession of activities occur – the picadors circle the bull and try to wound it, the matador fights the bull trying to kill it unless the bull manages to injure him. Usually at the end of the show the bull must die – but the fighter must entertain the public with a dramaticand enthusiastic performance until the bull’s death. If the spectators highly appreciate the show the matador receives not only a thunderous applause but also one of the dead bull’s rings, tail or ear. A very good show can even end with a celebration in honour of the matador carrying him around the arena. La lidia is death as well as courage and show… Make no mistake the fights are bloody and merciless but ast he aficioonados say – “better a bull dies from the hand of a matador than in a slaughterhouse”.

bullfighting-spain2The real La lidia, which is known in the world as the art of bullfighting, ceased to exist in Spain already in the middle of the 18th century. Until the middle of the 19th century the animal breeders managed to raise the first safe fight bull breed – toro bravo but in Sevilla the first bullfighting schools appeared.

Still, not every Spaniard encourages this unorthodox sport, because it has been calculated that every year in front of millions of spectators about 21,000 bulls are killed and many people do not consider killing for fun as humane but as an unimaginable torture and a prolonged slaughter.

The fans regard Corrida as an art but for passionate supporters it is a lifestyle.

Early in 2004 the council of Barcelona declared the prohibition of Corrida in the city. This rule was not that legitimate though because the regional Catalonian animal protection law does not forbid it. It is unlikely that other cities will follow the lead of Barcelona. In some regions, for example, amidst the people of the Balearic Islands bullfihts have never been very popular but, for instance, Andalusia is not imaginable without a real Corrida which usually occurs during the weekend each day at 6 pm. Generally six bulls that are faced by three toreros (fighter) teams or cuadrillas participate in the fights.

Another quite popular and peculiar competition with death in Spain is the bull race – enraged animals are goaded along narrow streets but a sizeable shoal of people do everything to avoid collision with each other or the bulls and stay alive. The most popular races of this kind are organized in Pamplona as a part of the town festivities.


· Muleta – a little red cloth pulled tight on a stick
· Capote – the red cape
· Paseillo – the combatant’s parade at the beginning of the show
· Corrida – the bullfighting show
· Espada – the matador’s sword, also called Estoque
· Matador – the main combatant
· Novilladas – the novice bullfight
· Rejoneadores – the combatants on horses
· Toril – a particular place in the arena where the bulls are kept
· Picador – the combatant who tires the bull before the matador’s entrance
· Banderillas – thorny spears with coloured handles that are run into the bull’s body
· Puntilla – a dagger that is run into the base of the bull’s cranium ·
Puerta grande – the main door of the arena
· Gradas – the highest and cheapest seats at the upper part of the arena
· Barreras – the most expensive front seats in the first rows
· Sol / Sombra – the sun / the shade – the seating choice
· Plaza de Toros – the arena of the bullfight

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Aksel Ritenis

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