Culture,  Preparing

An Introduction to Spanish Bullfighting

Dear Sarah,

You’ve probably heard about the bull fights in Spain, but wondered what that really means. It is so hard for those of us who don’t have bullfighting as part of our tradition to grasp the concept of bullfighting, but this activity has been a big part of Spanish tradition for centuries. While there is a movement to stop bullfighting, there is one that is equally strong to continue the tradition as part of the culture. So, we decided that it is important to introduce the history and the two sides of the story. Later in the week, we will be diving a little bit more into our personal experiences, but for now this is just an overview.

Note: Please keep in mind that we are not pro-bullfighting but pro-understanding-the different-sides-of-the-story here. This article should help you prepare for a basic conversation about bullfighting with people on both sides of the line.


Bullfight. Granada. 2011 Photo Source: Ali BonnellAn introduction to Modern Bullfighting:

Although bullfighting in one form or another has been part of Iberian Peninsula tradition from Roman times, modern day bullfighting has its own rules that have evolved over the years. Bullfighting as it is known today has been around since the 18th century. Toreos or corridas de toros is the name given to this modern version of bullfighting. These shows take place in bullrings or the Plaza de Toros (almost every city has one) and involve a variety of different professional actors and ‘scenes’ in order to win the crowd over. If the fight isn’t deemed well-done by the spectators, they will make their dissatisfaction known. The main players are:

El Torero or Matador de Toros: This is the main person in the corrida de toros. Depending on the different shows, the torero will either be on horseback or move on foot. This actor has to complete a set of well-carried out movements and specific ‘dances’ before, eventually, killing the bull if he is to win over the crowd.

Los Subalternos: Those actors who help the torero in different situations during the show. Different people help in different moments:

  • Los banderilleros: A variety of people who’s job is to stab the bull with banderillas or colorful sticks with sharp ends.
  • El mozo de espadas: The actor who supports the torero by giving him different tools during the fight.
  • El picador: The guy on the horse who stabs the bull with a picaor lance.

– Other important members for maintaining bullfighting tradition are the people who decorate the Plaza, the President (or person representing the municipality where the fight takes place), the Alguacilillos (who communicate the President’s orders), and the people who transport the bulls and protect the various members of the subalternos when necessary.


The Tradition of Bullfighting:

For those who support it, bullfighting as seen in Spain today is something that is as integrated into society as Semana Santa. It is a tradition that is to be respected (the fighters are risking their lives after all), and when done correctly, it is revered as being beautiful. This connection between risk and dance is something that people—mostly men—train for from a young age and dedicate their lives to. Those people who support bullfighting consider it an art and argue that it does less harm to the animals than activities such as industrial farming or having caged birds at home.

Many organisations (including the national government) consider that bullfighting is part of the national cultural and even part of the heritage. This means that there is an inherent desire by part of the population to not give up the right to celebrating with bullfights. At the same time, new laws work towards making the show more artistic and less painful for the bulls as possible, but even still there are parts of the country that are trying to ban bullfighting.


Anti-bullfighting Movement:

The percentage of Spaniards who are anti-bullfighting seems to be increasing as the years go by, despite government intent to keep this tradition alive. In fact, Autonomous Communities such as Catalonia, the Canary Islands, and the Balearic Islands have all tried to banned this practice in their regions. However, the ban has been overthrown by the government suggesting they don’t have the political power to impose these bans.

For those who don't support it, bullfighting is seen as unusually cruel. This means that communities and anti-animal-violence NGOs are trying to take matters into their own hands by voicing their discontent with the current practices. The logic behind these movements is based on the idea that cruel treatment of animals for human entertainment is not acceptable in any form and, even though it is considered a cultural practice, that bullfighting should be banned.

This issue is complicated because while in Spain you will most likely meet people who are on both sides of the fence (and can even be friends when not talking about bullfighting). Passions around the topic—either pro-this-is-my-culture or anti-this-is-incredibly-cruel—run very high. And don’t expect a Spaniard to want your uneducated (in the sense that it is not your culture) opinion. However, I hope that this article has given you insight into both sides and will allow you to start up the conversation if that is something you would like to do.

Let us know about your experiences!


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