When you think of Spanish culture, you think of guitars, flamenco dancing, and yes, bull fighting. Those matadors waving the red flags, their fancy costumes, and the bulls charging towards them; those bull fights. These fights are major events, not only in Spain but in parts of Portugal, France and in some Latin American countries. Of course, customs differ from country to country, but the concept is the same. A matador faces off against an angry bull, waves a red cape or flag, and eventually, they kill the bull.
It’s a tradition that has taken place throughout the ages, and while for the most part, it has died out in many parts of the world, Spain has kept the tradition alive, even to this day. In fact, if you visit the southern areas of Spain, you’ll find vendors still selling tickets for avid audiences. But what exactly is bull fighting? Where did it come from? And what happens in a show? Don’t worry, we’ll tell you everything you need to know. And if you’re interested in watching the fight, why not learn a little Spanish, to understand all the different terms that come with a classic bull fight.
Bull Fighting Is Prehistoric
Bull fighting goes back to prehistoric eras. Although, it isn’t the same as what we know as bull fighting, the act of fighting bulls is what the core principle of the tradition is all about. Of course, there is a lot of debate about the history of bull fighting, and where it came from, but for the most part, historians agree that bull fighting is a tradition that contained lots of other customs from these ancient traditions. From bull worship and sacrifices in ancient Mesopotamia, where bull fighting was part of their religious culture, to pastimes in Ancient Greece.
Eventually, the tradition was introduced to the Spanish region, by Iberian tribes, who organised events around these bull fights, which gained the interest from the kings of Spain themselves. It is believed that the North African Muslims, who conquered Spain, in its early medieval period, brought the entertaining sport into Spain. And their Almohad caliphs, their governors and kings who ruled the Andalucía region, enjoyed the spectacle.
However, as the Muslim conquerors of Spain were driven away, the tradition didn’t leave with them and, instead, stayed in the southern Spanish regions, where they gained popularity and prestige. In fact, it is speculated that the first Castilian, to lance a bull, after a bull fight, was none other than Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, who is better known as El Cid. And from then on, the spectacle grew into what it is today.
The Controversy Of Bull Fighting
One of the biggest controversies of bull fighting is the cruel way in which the bulls are killed. It’s a slow death, and can take up to 20 minutes. Not only that, but it can be excruciating for them, because of the different phases of the match, as there is one phase where the matador, the bull fighter, stabs the bull with small, colourful, and barbed harpoons, into its neck. And before the final act, where the bull is killed, at least 4 banderillas need to be stuck into the bull’s neck. So, a fight can be prolonged for much longer.
In fact, because of its brutality, even the Catholic church banned the spectacle, as early as 1567. Pope Pius V had issued a papal ban of the sport altogether, because it betrayed the principles of the church. According to the Catholic tradition, all humans are responsible for the care of all animals and creatures on Earth, and because bullfighting is a form of entertainment, where an animal is killed in a brutal way, the sport directly opposed that principle. So, Pope Pius V banned anyone who attended and even participated in the event.
Even today, the ban still stands, and even many countries have banned the event, by law. From the UK to Argentina and Canada, bull fighting is banned and is seen as a criminal act. Of course, the event is still carried out in Spain, Portugal and France, so a ban hasn’t been introduced to the regions (yet). Only time will tell if these countries will eventually ban the tradition, but it still takes place today, so if you’re interested in watching the spectacle, you can still book tickets to watch it.
The Phases of A Spanish Bull Fight
There are 3 main stages in a fight, which eventually ends with the bull’s death. Each stage is introduced with the sound of a bugle, and each stage has a limit of 10 minutes. These stages are:
1. Tercio De Varas
This is where a picador, who is basically an assistant to a matador, is mounted on a horse and encourages the bull to attack his horse, so he can get close enough to weaken the bull’s neck, to supposedly make it less dangerous. After 3 stabs in the neck, the picador leads the bull back to the matador, who will then use a capote to taunt the bull. This is basically the part that everyone knows about.
2. Tercio De Banderillas
During this phase, the matador then needs to stab the bull’s neck with colourful barbed harpoons, called banderillas, which further weakens the bull. This can be a very dangerous phase of the fight, because the banderillero, another assistant to the matador, needs to stick at least 4 banderillas into the bull’s neck, within 3 tries.
3. Tercio De Muerte
This is the last and most dangerous phases of the fight, because the matador himself faces the bull, with a small red cape, called the muleta, and a sword, which he will eventually use to kill the bull. For this phase, the matador needs to make up to 6 passes with the bull, before he lands the final blow.
Once the bull is dead, it is then dragged off the ring by a company of mules or horses, and the matador and his team are awarded trofeos, which are essentially a badges of honour, for their bravery and artistry.