Bullfighting is a Spanish tradition that’s been going on for many years.
The iconic Spanish activity is not without controversy, but many locals believe it would be a travesty to get rid of this ancient tradition. For a lot of tourists, seeing a bullfight is still right at the top of their Spanish wish list.
Clearly, it presents a unique opportunity to witness something that you’ve never seen before – and will probably never see outside of Spain. So, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about bullfighting in Spain, and the history surrounding it.
The history of bullfighting in Spain
Bullfighting is looked upon in a different light by the people of Spain. They’re seen as a fiesta; a reason for everyone to come together and celebrate. Many believe they’re more of an art form than an actual sport – and this all comes from the deep cultural history of bullfighting in Spain.
While bullfighting itself has been around since 2000BC, it’s thought that it really made a name in Spain back in 1726. Here, we had the first instances of a traditional Spanish bullfight. There were three matadors and six bulls, with each matador having a sword and a cape. The aim is to kill the fighting bulls, with each matador having a 15-minute encounter.
What to expect if you go
You’ve probably seen the first part of a Spanish bullfight in movies; the matador uses the red cloth to entice the bull, who charges towards them – only for the matador to dodge at the last second. This builds up the anticipation in the crowd before the second ‘act’ begins.
Here, you have people known as picadors that ride around the bull on horses and jab the bull with lances to weaken it. From here, the matador begins the final exchange, using the cloth again to entice the raging bull. Finally, they use their sword to kill the bull.
A lot of people are unaware that the bulls actually die, but this is part of the event. Sometimes, matadors will get extremely injured by the bull’s horns goring them. Many people have been killed taking part in bullfighting in Spain. The good news is, it’s safe for crowds!
All bullfights will start on time, usually at around 5pm during bullfighting season. It’s highly recommended you’re in your seat ready for the start as it is quite the spectacle. You’ll see nothing quite like this anywhere else in the world; the brightly coloured extravagant suits worn by the matadors, the balletic dance between the bull and the matador, and of course, the majestic bulls themselves.
Expect to feel a lot of tension and fear as you see so many close encounters between a bull’s horns and the matadors. This is partly what makes the whole thing so engaging; all it takes is one slip up, and the bull wins.
Where does bullfighting in Spain take place now?
You will find bullfights in special bullfighting arenas all over Spain. They’re commonly referred to as bullrings or Plaza de Toros.
Pretty much all of the big cities in the country have at least one bullring, and the usual bullfighting season runs from February through to September. It’s worth noting that bullfighting has been outlawed in Catalonia – so you won’t be able to witness it if you’ve gone to Barcelona.
Madrid is definitely one of the top bullfighting cities in Spain, and it boasts a magnificent bullring called Las Ventas. It was only built in 1929, with a capacity of 25,000! Since then, it has become the home of the San Isidro Bullfighting Festival. This takes place in May each year, and there are usually two weeks worth of regular bullfights to enjoy.
Seville is another big city that regularly hosts bullfights in Spain. Each Easter, you will see the beginning of the bullfighting season in this city. There are some on every day during the Feria de Abril, and then less frequently through to around September. This city is home to the oldest bullring in Spain; the 12,500 capacity Maestranza, built in 1758.
Another great place to go is Malaga. Here, you will see bullfighting every day during the Feria de Agosto. This is a festival that goes on every year in August. Or, if you want to get very specific, make your way to a little city in the province of Malaga; Rondo. This is one of the homes of traditional bullfighting in Spain, and it holds a bullring that was built in 1785. It’s a legendary place to visit, and the bullfights tend to happen in September.
Some people in Spain believe that bullfighting should be made illegal. The obvious reason for this is that they see it as inhumane to kill bulls for sport. There are plenty of protests year after year, but it remains perfectly legal in most parts of the country. People argue it’s a firm part of their culture, and that these bulls actually live better lives than ones that get killed for food. There’s also the argument that, if bullfighting is so wrong, then surely horse racing should be banned too? Horses are mistreated and killed in these races as well, so is it much different?
We’ll leave these debates to the people with more knowledge on the topic than us! All you need to know is that bullfighting does hold some controversy, so be aware of protestors if you attend a bullfight while you’re in Spain.
If you are interested in watching bullfighting in Spain, then it’s definitely one of those once in a lifetime experiences. The best way to buy tickets is to go to the ticket booth at the actual bullrings themselves. They go on sale around 10 days before each event, and there’s a handy bullfighting calendar you can view online. As long as you’re not staying in Catalonia, you should have a bullfight nearby – particularly during the summer season.
It may be controversial, but bullfighting is still an iconic part of Spain, and it’s something you should think about seeing at least once!