Bullfight…Sport or Slaughter?

As promised, here is my post about the bullfight. I needed to finish up Madrid so I can start telling you about our other recent travels!

While we were in Madrid, we took the opportunity to attend a bullfight at the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas. This was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

The bullfight started at 5:30pm, and we were told to be there at least 20 minutes prior. Of course, I thought we should be there 40 minutes prior just to be safe! This gave us plenty of time to buy overpriced nuts and sodas outside the arena. Being used to American stadiums, we assumed incorrectly that we would have to buy concessions inside. So, if you ever attend a bullfight in Madrid, feel free to bring your own food & drink! We also had plenty of time to find our seats. October is the end of bullfighting season, so the crowd was rather slim. We were one of the first in the stadium, so Brandon immediately went to find a beer.

The “seats” were simply an area marked on a concrete ledge. There was an eccentric old man trying to rent cushions to sit on, but we decided to tough it out. After all, if we can sit through a whole Nebraska football game without cushions, we figured we could make it through a 2-hour bullfight.

I found a thorough explanation of a Madrid bullfight at Madrid Guide Spain, so we had a vague idea of what to expect. I’ll share that explanation with you and add my personal comments & pictures:

A Madrid bullfight consists of six bulls and three matadors with each matador being accompanied by two assistants. In a little over two hours the matadors will each kill two bulls or “toros” as they are known in Spain.

To start the spectacle the matadors and their assistants will enter the bullring and parade in front of the crowd in order of stature. The 1st matador will be he of the longest time served as a matador unless it is the 1st time in Madrid for one of the matadors in which instance he will lead.

The matadors and their assistants will go to their respective areas behind the Madrid bullring safety boards and await the 1st bull. Prior to the bull being released the equivalent of the master of ceremonies will announce the bull via a hand carried billboard giving details of the farmer, origin and weight. {All the bulls we saw were from the farm of C. Camacho and ranged in weight from 466kg to 535kg.} With the pomp and ceremony over, the bull is released!

Initially, the two assistants will enter the bullring and goad the bull into making a number of passes. This is done to determine the health and aggression of the bull whilst the matador watches on. Sometimes the bull will not respond and the crowd will start to whistle. If this happens, the bull will be returned and a replacement brought out. {No replacements were necessary the night we were there.}

Having secured a suitable bull, the band located in the upper reaches of the plaza will play a quick melody signifying the entrance of the two horses and their riders. The purpose of the riders is to maneuver themselves so that they can make short cuts with their lances into the shoulder area of the bull. This serves to agitate the bull and to start the blood flowing out of the animal. A further melody signifies when the appropriate time has passed.

With the now enraged bull, the assistants return to the bullring carrying short barbed staffs called banderillas. The assistants will attempt to have the bull charge them and at the last minute, going over the horns, plant the barbs into the bull’s shoulders. A good assistant will plant the barbs firmly and accurately and the crowd will applaud this. Again a short melody signifies the end of this process. {The assistants we saw didn’t seem to be very good at this task. In fact, one of the matadors did this himself!}

Now it is the turn of the matador, which translated literally means “killer.” Using his cape, the matador will have the bull charge him. The objective being that when the bull does so, the matador maintains a rigid pose and guides the bull around his body. Skilled matadors will do so in a way that the cape does not leave the ground.

As the bull tires, both through blood loss and exertion, the band plays up again and the matador goes to his assistant for the killing sword. On a particular charge this will be driven over the horns, through the shoulder blades and directly into the animal’s aorta, killing it dead. This however doesn’t always happen and it may be necessary for the assistants to finish the stricken bull with a sharp needle like dagger between the eyes.

Following the killing of the bull, the crowd reacts depending on how they judge the spectacle. A great deal of cheering could see the successful matador being awarded one of three prizes: an ear, two ears, or the ultimate of two ears and the tail. {We didn’t see any prizes awarded! I guess these matadors weren’t very good!}

Following the removal of the animal’s carcass, to be butchered and sold to high class restaurants, the next fight will be announced! The spectacle will continue until each matador (or in the event of injury, his substitute) has killed the allocated two bulls. Should one matador have achieved four ears, he will be hoisted above the other two and leave through the puerta grande, “great door.” So ends the typical Madrid bullfight experience in the plaza de toros! {Again, none of the matadors were awarded anything that we saw, so no one left through the puerta grande. Of course, we also high-tailed it out of the arena, so we might have missed something!}

So, that is how a bullfight generally works. I was rather horrified throughout most of it, but there were some entertaining moments. The last bull tried really hard to “win” the fight. First, he jumped out of the arena while he was being goaded on by the assistants.

Then, he attacked the horse so violently that the poor horse fell over! Thankfully, the horse wasn’t hurt due to all the protective padding, but that same padding made it very difficult for it to stand back up. It took four men to help it up! The worst part was that the rider got back on the poor horse and went after the bull again. (I read somewhere that the horses didn’t always wear the protective padding and so often more horses were killed than bulls!)

If you want to see what a bullfight looks like instead of just reading about it, you can watch the official highlights here. You can also see my unofficial videos on YouTube.

You can read about the rest of our trip to Madrid here and see all of our pictures on our Shutterfly Share Site.