What are the essentials basics of bullfighting and where can I see one?

A bullfight in Spanish is called a corrida de toros. Everyone (and I mean absolutely everyone) whether they support it or not seems to have a very strong opionion on the subject. I wanted to discuss some of the basic principles because so many people have expressed an enormous curiosity about its rituals and practices.

Some basic points the layman should understand:

  1. Bullfighting exists in spite of tourism. So don’t condemn that which you don’t understand. Don’t be an ignorant hypocrite! This first concept is very important to recognize. I cannot tell you how many passengers I’ve seen rather loudly voice their strongly critical opinions on the subject and then later on in a tour mindlessly be seen scarfing down a McDonald’s hamburger. Know what you’re talking about before you take issue with it. If you don’t like it and you have an educated opinion on the matter, that’s different.
  2. The second major principle to grasp is that it is a much larger metaphor for life. Bullfighting becomes both a metaphor for life and celebration of it. Many people have never pondered their own mortal deaths and are, as a result, shocked when they see an animal die before them. Yet we will all die someday as we succumb to whatever ails us, and the how we choose to die is of the utmost importance. Serving as a larger symbol for the life of man, these animals die courageously and with bravery right up until the end and ceremoniously serve as an example for mankind.
  3. Catholicism is deeply interwoven into the practice, ie Veronicas and the fourth station of the cross. The bull almost takes a christlike role in the sense it dies for the purpose of all. La lidia, or the art of bullfighting as it is known, lies indelibly tangled within the many Catholic traditions. For example, when the bull passes before the torero’s cape it is called a veronica. Those of you who don’t recall, Veronica was the woman who wiped the tears from Christ’s face before he was crucified and now serves as the 4th station of the cross.
  4. All the dead bulls are eaten. Nothing on the bull is wasted. In fact, a refrigerated butcher truck awaits behind the corrals to take away all 6 carcasses for the purposes of food production. The meat of the bull is very highly prized and can cost double a normal cow. Parts most sought after are the tail, the tenderloin, and the testacles. A surprise to many is that only an average of one bullfighter per year is actually killed during a bullfight in the ring. In Portugal meat from the bull is donated to charities.
  5. They’re NOT drugged, given amphetamines, sprayed in the eyes with acid, have their voice-boxes cut out so they can’t scream or anything else ridiculous like that! I don’t know where people come up with such nonsense. Those two little ribbons in the back of their neck simply indicate the best point of entry for the eventual stabbings by the picador and torero.
  6. It is not considered a sport by the Spanish.

The oldest bullring in the Spain and to many the spiritual heart of bullfighting lies in the little Andalucian mountain town of La Ronda-

  • Address: Virgen de la Paz, 15. 29400 Ronda (Provicia de Malaga)
  • Tel. (+34) 952 871 539
  • Opening Hours: Open every day of the week. From November to February: 10 am to 6 pm;/ from March to April 15: 10 am to 7 pm/ from April 16 to October: 10am to 8pm

Despite that, Seville to most stands to represents the capital of la lidia, or the art of bullfighting. It is there you will find the second oldest ring, capable of seating 14,000 people with tours available almost daily in summer in English and Spanish simultaneously for 3 euros. Despite their long history in Seville, only 3 bullfighters, or toreros as they’re known in Spanish, have ever been killed inside the ring. Like most Plaza de toros, they also have a emergency operating room and a chapel for prayer prior to the fight. For more information see www.realmaestranza.com

You can bring your own beer or wine and sandwiches, and may wish to bring a cushion for the hard concrete seats which many bullrings have.

The best place to see a fight may be Madrid. For up-to-date listings of upcoming bullfights, visit www.las-ventas.com (in Spanish only but click on x for dates of upcomingfights) and to book tickets see www.tickettoros.com. For other bullring and fight info see www.sevillcityguide.com.

Terms to Know

La Lidia- the art of bullfighting

Torero- the bullfighter

Duende- literally refers to a hobgoblin, but also the inexplicable power of attraction, ability and spirit of certain toreros and flamenco artists

Sol- sun

Sombra- shade

In Portugal, bullfighting, or the Tourada as it is known, has basically the same principles as Spanish bullfighting with a few major exceptions.

In southern France,on Wednesdays in July and August in Arles and Nimesshows featuring Course Camargue style bullfights where the bull is not killed are held at the Arena, an old Roman coliseum dating from the mid-1st century. Razeteurs

Undoubtedly the greatest resource available in English is Ernest Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon, which deconstructs many of the very confusing and misunderstood aspects of bullfighting. Federico Garcia Lorca, Spain’s greatest poet, has this to say on the subject from his book, In Search of Duende:

“In the midst of the Iberian summer they open the rings-the altars. Man sacrifices the brave bull, offspring of the sweet cow, goddess of the dawn, who is alive in the dew. And the huge heavenly cow, a mother whose blood is always being shed, demands that man, too, be sacrificed. Each year the best bullfighters fall, torn apart by the sharp horns of bulls who, for one terrible moment, exchange their role of victims for that of sacrificers, as though the bull, obeying some secret instinct or unknown law, had chosen to carry the most heroic torero, delivering him (as in the tauromachy of Crete) to the purest, most delicate Virgin.”

While I am the first to acknowledge that it may not be for everyone, it is an extraordinarily powerful and moving experience.  I myself have been moved to tears on many occasions and the laymen will find that there is always a great sense of pathos, both for bull and bullfighter inside and out of the ring.