Being of Spanish decent I always wondered what it would be like to go to a bullfight. Growing up, bullfighting had a very glorified image. The brave matador, dressed in his traditional costume of brilliant colors, boldly risks his life and limb to tackle a mad and ferocious beast. The bullfight is seen by many as the mysterious ritual between man and beast, which is an integral part of Spanish culture and custom. But is it?
Bullfighting in Spain it said to date back at least 1000 years. It is considered as an art form or as a sport. So, on my trip to Spain this year, I decided to go see for myself what all the excitement was about.
In Madrid my girlfriend and I, both curious about seeing a bullfight, bought tickets to go see one in Madrid’s Las Ventas bullring (Plaza de Toros). The event’s flamboyant costumes and baying crowds make it one of Spain’s most globally recognized traditions, so supporters argue that it’s an important cultural landmark. Those on the other side of the debate, however, counter that tradition and recognition do not make it art.
We walked around observing the walls of the Colosseum that proudly displayed retired bullfighting matador capes. The Plaza de Toros of Las Ventas is considered the most important bullring in the world, the Mecca of bullfighting. The arena has a capacity of holding up to 25,000 people and it’s where all matadors want to succeed. We worked our way through the crowds of people selling drinks, food, and cushions for seats.
Walking up the stairs into the arena I had a flashback of the Colosseum in Rome and what it must have been like for spectators going to see gladiators fighting animals. We took our seats on the concrete benches and used the cushions we rented for $2 euros to ease the hard seats. I was glad that our seats were in the shade and not directly in the sun.
To start off the bullfight, all the participants enter the arena in a parade procession. First, men riding horses followed by the matadors dressed in brightly colored costumes. Behind the matadors were men riding horses covered with some type of armor. After parading around the entire arena some of the madators took their place behind a barrier wall lined with capes.
Following the parade, the first matador enters the ring with a few assistant matadors and the doors to the corral are flung open and the bull comes charging in. The matador walks around the bull observing the bulls every move and rotates his cape around with the actions of the bull. He worked on getting the attention of the bull, as if saying, “Shall we dance?” The matador cleverly gets the bull to move in rhythm with him.
Next, two Picadores (men with spears) enter the ring armed with a pica and are mounted on heavily padded and blindfolded horses. The pica is a weapon about 6-8 inches long, it looks like a small spear. The bull is distracted by the horses and charges into one of the horses while the picador attempts to stab the spear into the bull’s neck/shoulder area. The horse is blindfolded and literally had mattresses on either side of them to take the charge of the bull. Once the pica is thrust into the bull, it is twisted round and a large, gaping wound appears. The bull then starts bleeding heavily from either side of its body. It made me feel little sick to my stomach and it was just the beginning.
Next the Picadores exit and it’s the Banderilleros (men who operate the mini spears) turn to stick banderillas (flag-like mini spears) into the bulls. These are plunged into the bull’s body as he is distracted and taunted by the capes. Up to six banderillas may be used. When the banderillas strike, the bull stops in his tracks and bellows madly.
At each pass of the bull, as part of an old and important tradition in the spanish culture, the entire crowd yells in unison, “Ole!”
The kill last about 6 minutes, and is done by the main matador. If he has any difficulties (which is an extremely rare occurrence), the others immediately rush in to his aid and finish off the bull. He moves in for the final blow by lunging his blade into the bull. I’ll spare you the pictures.
Even then, the bull isn’t allowed a little dignity to leave this world in peace, his bleeding body is dragged around the ring by mules, to which he is attached by an apparatus made of wood and chains.
So what do I think? Well, despite being Spanish and raised on the glory story of bullfighting, I’ve always suspected that bullfighting is barbaric and should have been banned long ago. Now that I’ve seen what is actually involved. I’m sure it’s barbaric and I regret supporting the tradition with my purchase of a ticket.
After witnessing the sheer horror of this sickening slaughter, I would never consider a second visit to a bullring. As I walked out of the Colosseum, it was difficult to understand how in this so-call civilized age, crowds of people pay money and take pleasure in watching a creature getting slowly hacked to death.
Each year, thousands of bulls are tortured and killed in bullrings throughout Spain. Prior to the fight, bulls are intentionally debilitated in various ways: They’re often deprived of food and a few inches of their horns are sometimes sawed off to expose the nerve and impair their coordination in an illegal practice called “shaving.” And a study at Spain’s Salamanca University revealed that 20 percent of the bulls used for fighting are drugged before they enter the ring.
The vast majority of tourists like ourselves were appalled by what happened at the bullfight and left after we saw what happened to the first bull. Bullfighting is barbaric and is a cruel blood sport that should be banned.
What do you think? Should Bullfighting be Banned?