Bullfighting: A Bloody Tradition

With the Pedro Romero fair opening this week and the recent announcement that Catalonia intends to ban bullfighting, we take a look at the sport that spills blood among the traditionalists and animal-rights activists.

It was a close call but the parliament of Catalonia, backed by a petition signed by 180,000 people, voted to ban bullfighting in July 2010. It is the first region of mainland Spain to take this decision, the first Spanish region to ban bullfighting was the Canary Islands back in 1991. Some rumours suggest the driving force was not just pressure from animal-rights activists but another attempt by Catalonia to differenciate itself from the rest of the country. But will the rest of Spain follow suit?

Nowadays, cries of dying art forms and waning traditions will fall on deaf ears when the general consensus follows that the unnecessary suffering of animals is no longer sport but slaughter and outdated barbarism. The ban placed on foxhunting in the UK in 2004 is perhaps another indication to confirm today’s changing attitudes.

This video shows how a bull managed to jump from the ring and into the crowd in August 2010.

A Typical Bullfight

In Spain a corrida, or bullfight, lasts approximately 20 minutes during which the bull is stabbed numerous times before the fatal blow is delivered with a sword between the shoulder blades. Bullfighting is practised in Spain, Portugal, France and Latin American countries but interestingly in Portugal and the south of France, the bull is not killed in the ring. The bulls are bred especially for the fighting sport and each corrida uses 6 bulls and 3 matadors who tackle 2 bulls each. Each matador has 6 assistants and the team is collectively known as toreros (bullfighters).


Bullfighting can be traced back to Crete 4,000 years ago where frescos have been found of men and women challenging the beasts. It also found a place in the Roman amphitheatres entertaining the crowds along with the bloodshed of gladiators. But it was Franceso Romero from the town of Ronda in Spain, who, in 1726, lay down the rules of the procedure including the use of estoques (sword) and muleta (small capes). Later, Pedro Romero, the greatest matador of the time was appointed head of the Escuela de Tauromaquia de Sevilla, the first ever bullfighting college. It remains almost unchanged. The matadors still don their traje de luces (suit of lights, while a supersticious lot still consider wearing yellow in the bull ring to be unlucky. Only in recent years have women played a part in the bullfight.

Art or Sport?

Interestingly only detractors call bullfighting a sport. Traditionalists classify it as an art form claiming there is no competition involved. Even though a number of people have died in the bullring, the lack of competitiveness rings true when you consider that the odds are unfairly stacked against the bull. Petroleum jelly is rubbed into their eyes to create blurred vision and they are shut away in the dark so as to be dazzled by the sunlight in the ring. They are often given laxatives and tranquilisers.

In his book ‘Death in the Afternoon’ Ernest Hemingway, famously a fan of bullfighting in his day, wrote of the sport “I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after”…

Bullfighting Facts

  • Bulls are in fact colourblind. The decision to use a red muleta (cape) is now based on the tradition of concealing the bull’s blood.
  • Initially more horses were killed in the ring than bulls. Since 1930, horses have worn protective covers to prevent the bulls disembowelling them.
  • The faena, performed by the matador, uses the muleta to creatively allow the bull to charge and narrowly pass by the matador’s body.

Pedro Romero Fair & Ronda

30th August – 6th September 2010

The main event is the Corrida Goyesca (a style of bullfighting which evolved in the 18th century and was recorded by the painter Goya) held in one of the most famous bullrings in the world, the Real Maestranza de Caballería de Ronda.

It’s easy to leave the bullfighting out of it and enjoy the other festivities going on. There’s plenty of dancing, singing and wine-tasting to enjoy throughout the week. The event officially opens with a parade. It starts with the Dames Goyesca, women handpicked for their elegance and beauty and finishes with the switching on of the fair’s artistic lights. Celebrations continue into the night at the Feria del Centro with numerous musical performances taking place at the Municipal Caseta. The roaring “Olés” echo round the bullring on Saturday and Sunday. Along with the bullfight there is also the Carriage’s Contest and Ronada’s horseback bullfighting

Ronda is a beautiful place to visit, whether or not you’re attending the bullfight. It’s probably the most stunning of all the Pueblos Blancos, a group of towns and villages located within the Sierra de Grazalema National Park and characterised by their whitewashed walls and red tiled roofs. Ronda lies 130m above El Tajo gorge with a stunning 18th century bridge, the Puente Nuevo, connecting the two sides. Although it’s popular with day-trippers you’ll discover a historic town with pleasantly intact architecture. Fine examples include the Moorish influences evident in Santa María La Mayor’s minaret which was originally a mosque and also the 14th century Casa de Mondragón, the palace of Moorish kings. Most will not fancy the bullfight but the Bullfighting Museum is also housed inside the Real Maestranza de Caballería de Ronda (15 Calle Virgen de la Paz). It lies beneath the bloody public arena and provides a chronological tour of bullfighting culture, its origins and the art of horse riding. There are displays of costumes and also Goya’s full set of Tauromaquia (admission €6).

Getting There

It’s a windy road up into the Serranía de Ronda so the bus can be a hair-raising ride. We suggest the train:

Depart Malaga: 10:00/16:46. Arrive Ronda: 13:57/20:50
Depart Madrid: 08:40/15:05. Arrive Ronda: 12:27/19:01
If you are coming from Seville you need to change at Cordoba and the journey takes about 4 hours.


The Hotel Acinipo in Ronda has rooms from €29pppn night but if your’e looking for youth hostels Malaga has a number of budget properties both in town and along the coast. You can book a dorm room from about €13pppn and at most hostels Madrid and its historic city centre is on your doorstep. Alternatively if your’e looking for slightly cheaper hostels Seville prices start at €11pppn for a dorm or €14pppn for a private room.

Similar Events in Spain

Semana de Toros: This bull run (6th-12th September) is held every year in the Castellon town of Segorbe. Bullfighting events take place throughout the week but this is the main event and is broadcast live on local TV.

Torneo del Toro de la Vega: Meaning ‘the tournament of the bull in the meadow’, the bull run is part of the Festival of the Virgen de la Peña held in the second week of September in Tordesillas near Valladolid. This time it is the townsfolk that chase the bull. The toro (bull) is chased across town by horsemen wielding spears, over the bridge and into a meadow. Until now the bull has only been wounded by corrida lancers, which is thought to cause an adrenalin rush and blood loss, alleviate undue suffering and also improve the flavour of the beef. Only on reaching the meadow is the final blow dealt. Rather unpleasantly, the killer is invited to cut off the bull’s testicles and parade them through the town impaled on his spear. He receives a gold medal from the City. This event is supposedly a ritual sacrifice and has, like many such events in Spain, been declared of Regional Tourist Interest.

Like this? Read about the Pampolona Bull Run here.

Thanks to dutchb0ystealthproject2006ebifry and papalars for the images off Flickr!

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