Bullfighting is a deep rooted tradition in Spain. Watching a bullfight is an unique activity in Spain. It has gathered crowds of aficionados and recently animal rights activits fighting for the ban of this bloody spectacle.
Bullfighting is very closely associated with Spain and can trace its origins back to 711 A.D. This is when the first bullfight took place in celebration for the crowning of King Alfonso VIII. It is very popular in Spain with several thousand Spaniards flocking to their local bull-ring each week. It is said that the total number of people watching bullfights in Spain reaches one million every year.
Bullfighting was originally a sport for the aristocracy and took place on horseback. King Felipe V took exception to the sport however and banned the aristocracy from taking part, believing it to be a bad example to the public. After the ban commoners accepted the sport as their own and, since they could not afford horses, developed the practice of dodging the bulls on foot, unarmed. This transformation occurred around 1724.
What happens during a bullfight?
Firstly the bull is let into the ring. Then, the top bullfighter called the Matador, watches his chief assistant wave a bright yellow and magenta cape in front of the bull to make it charge. He watches this in order to determine the bull’s qualities and mood, before taking over himself.
Then a trumpet is sounded and several fighters called Picadores weaken the bull by placing spears into it. This takes around 10 minutes.
Another trumpet is sounded and the Matador now removes his black winged hat and dedicates the death of the bull to the president or the crowd before beginning his faena.
The faena which is the most beautiful and skillful section of the fight and where the matador must prove his courage and artistry. The faena consists of a running at the Matador carrying a muleta. This is a piece of thick crimson cloth draped over a short stick, which can be held in either the left hand or draped over the espada, the killing sword, which is always held in the right hand. Usually the muleta, in left or right hand, is first held in front of the matador to make the bull charge and is then swung across and away from the matador’s body hopefully taking the bull with it.
This is a show, basically a dance with death – one wrong move and the Matador could become impaled on the horns of the bull. It is the Matador’s job to make this dance dramatic and enjoyable for the audience.
The faena continues until the Matador has demonstrated his superiority over the bull. Once this is achieved the bull is ready to be killed.
The matador stands some ten feet from the bull, keeping the bull fixated on the muleta and aims the espada between the shoulder blades. The matador attacks pushing the espada over the horns and deep between the shoulder blades. If the sword goes in to the hilt it is an estocada but if it hits bone it is a pinchazo or media-estocada. An estocada usually results in the bull dropping immediately to its knees and dying, but if the bull fails to die the matador may take the descabello (a sword with a short cross piece at the end) which he stabs into the bull’s neck severing the spinal cord. The fight is over.
The matador may be awarded trophies by the president, according to his skill in working with the bull, which can be one or two ears from the bull, the tail and the hoof. The crowd will often encourage the president to award the trophies by waving white hankerchiefs, and this waving continues after the trophies have been awarded in an attempt to get the matador to throw his trophies into the crowd. The crowd in return hurls flowers which are collected by the matador’s assistants.
If you want to watch a bullight, Seville and Madrid are both cities that have a large following for bullfighting and may be your best bets for a fully immersed experience.