Bullfighting might be one of the most controversial aspects of Spanish culture. Before coming to Spain, I was familiar with this particular Spanish tradition, but I wasn’t how I felt about it. I didn’t have much desire to actually attend a corrida (it’s kind of like the Houston Rodeo, right?), but I knew that I wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to go if given the chance.
Last week when I visited Madrid, my friends mentioned that they were going to go the Plaza de Toros in Madrid to see one of the bullfights. Liz, her brother Thomas and I all decided that we wanted to go. I mean, why not? Like I said, I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity…
Tickets were only 8 euros to sit on the “Sol” (sunny) side of the plaza, so we felt justified in buying our tickets. We were one of the first people in the plaza, and judging by the size, we thought that there was no way that the entire stadium would fill up. We were wrong. About five minutes before the event was set to start, the entire plaza was packed.
Side-note: The seating in the plaza was the most inconvenient thing in the entire world which further proves my theory that Spain is the land of everything inconvenient. There were just a bunch of cement rows, and the seats were separated by painted lines. Kind of like a parking lot. There were people sitting in front of you and behind you so you couldn’t lean up against anything and you had to straddle the person in front of you. Who designed that?! (Not Don Grimm, engineer extraordinaire) Plus, it was super hot and the body heat wasn’t aiding our level of comfort.
As for the actual bullfight…
The fight started at 7:00 p.m. with a paseillo. This is when everybody involved in the bullfight enters the arena to present themselves. There is one matador and his six assistants-two picadores who are mounted on horseback, three banderilleros, and a mozo de espadas (“sword page”). Fun Fact #1: My ISA directors told us that matadors are Spain’s equivalent to movie stars/celebrities/professional athletes in the United States. This team is collecetively known as toreros (“bullfighters”). Once the toreros enter the arena, the first bull is let out. The first bull that was let out during the fight that I attended immediately looked very confused and scared which was
kind of depressing. The toreros taunt the bull in order to make it charge at them by waving their flags. Fun Fact #2: Bulls are actually colorblind, so it’s not the color that makes them charge, it’s the movement of the flag. The matador does not partake in these events because he is watching from the sideline to determine the bull’s mood and strength.
Then the picadores take over. They are mounted on a horse and armed with a spear. They guide the horse to the bull to stab the spear into the bull’s neck. Luckily, the horse is wearing protective armor because the bull becomes furious at this point and tries to stab the horse with it’s horns (the horse is also blindfolded and has wet newspapers stuffed into it’s ears so that it doesn’t spook).
After the spear is stabbed into the bull’s neck, it is significantly weakened. This cues the banderilleros to start their task which is to stab two banderillas (sharp barbed sticks) into the bull’s shoulders. This further angers and weakens the bull. Once all the banderillas have been placed into the bull, the matador begins his faena.
The faena is where the matador is expected to prove his courage and skill. He is carrying a muleta which is the red cape covering the espada (killing sword). Fun fact #3: The muleta is said to be red to mask the bull’s blood, but now it has just become tradition. The matador carefully waves the muleta across his body to make the bull charge. This is probably the scariest part of the whole event. The bull gets dangerously close to the matador’s body, and one wrong move could mean death for the matador (Liz informed us that the wives and girlfriends of matadors rarely attend the corridas because it is too nerve-wracking). The faena continues until the matador feels that he has proved his superiority over the bull. Once this occurs, he takes the estoque (matador’s sword) and aims to stab in between the bull’s shoulder blades.
Sometimes it takes more than one try for the matador to kill the bull which results in an overwhelming disapproval from the crowd. They want the bull to die quickly, and the longer it takes the matador to kill the bull, the angrier the crowd becomes. One of the matadors that I saw took about four or five tries to kill the bull before he eventually had help. The crowd was not happy, to say the least. Once the bull is dead, a carriage comes by to drag the body out of the arena and the crowd stands up and claps. Depending on the success of the matador, he may be rewarded with trophies at the end of the corrida. These are typically one or two ears from the bull and/or his tail and/or his hoof.
The whole event lasts about 20 minutes per bull, and there are six rounds.
(Three matadors, six bulls, two chances in the arena per matador)
I’m still not sure about my feelings towards the corrida de toros. It was definitely a part of Spanish culture that I’m glad I got to experience, but I can’t say that I’m dying to go to another one. Definitely one of the most bizarre things that I’ve ever experienced. Oh, Spain. You’re such a weird place.
What are your opinions on bullfighting in Spain? Culture or cruelty?