Bullfighting is controversial. I didn’t have a strong opinion about it before I went, and my thoughts on the pastime were more mixed after going. Before getting into that, let me talk about the stadium and the spectacle of the event.
The Plaza Del Toros
The Plaza Del Toros is a short metro ride from Madrid’s city center. It is a beautiful arena from inside and out. The locals are dressed up, the men are smoking their cigars, and the alcohol is flowing.
The most important bullfights are held in May. I went on May 26th to San Isidro which featured the following toreros (bullfighters): ‘Paquirri’, Sebastián Castella, López Simón.
I recommend getting there early to see the paseillo (opening ceremony). The toreros come out with their team and address the crowd.
The fight is organized into three stages. (For a more professional breakdown of the event, check out this website.) The first stage is called the tercio de varas. This is where the bull makes his first entrance into the ring. The bull runs around in confusion and bangs up against the boards like a hockey player. After the bull is more oriented, the matador appears in all his elegance. This is when the event transitions from savagery to beauty as the matador skillfully engages the bull in dance. The art of the cape, as it is called, entices the audience who chants in unison “bueno! bueno!” each time the matador makes a pass.
Beauty gives way to blood when a man on a horse comes out and attempts to spear the bull. The bull charges the horse which is blindfolded until the bull is eventually stabbed.
The second stage is the tercio de banderillas. Here, the matador’s crew, the banderilleros, attempt to further weaken the bull by piercing it with two poles into the bull’s shoulders. When the banderilleros miss, the crowd gets frustrated. In one of the fights, the bull would not give into the banderilleros. He kept charging despite being stabbed over and over. Suddenly, the banderilleros left the arena and a group of cows entered and escorted the bull out of the arena. As it turned out, the bull’s life was spared by the president of the bullfight for showing such bravery. This is a rare occurrence.
The final stage is called the tercio del muerte. At this point, the bull has been severely weakened but still musters enough energy to attack the matador. In between these final charges, the bull and the matador stand perfectly still, facing one another. A distinct bond has been formed between the matador and the bull. The crowd appreciates the connection and applauds. At that moment, the matador delivers the final blow. Moments later, the bull stumbles to the ground and is finished off by the matador’s men. As the bull is dragged away, the crowd rises to its feet and pays homage to the matador and the bull for their courage. With white napkins waving, the crowd begs the president to pay tribute to the matador by allowing him to cut off the ear of the bull. The president gives the go ahead and the matador proceeds to do so.
The festivities continued after the fight in the courtyard. It was a bit eerie to see the butcher with the bull and the blood running into the sidewalk.
On the one hand, it’s a bit appalling to see the crowd take such pride in the torture and killing of an animal that has been severely weakened and is desperately fighting for survival. On the other hand, there is an art to bullfighting and a bond between the matador and the bull that is something to behold. Whether this pastime continues is for the Spanish people to decide because it is part of their culture. In the meantime, I would not dissuade anyone from attending.