The bullfight — an interesting experience

This past Friday evening, I attended my first bullfight (and, probably, my last).

In conjunction with La Feria, Ronda hosts three bullfighting events over the weekend. The most important, most expensive fight, El Goyesco, takes place on Saturday night. In this event, more experienced and well-known matadors fight bulls.

But, since it IS the most expensive, my friends and I instead opted to attend Friday’s event, El Novillado. During El Novillado, younger men who have not earned many “orejas” (the ear of the bull, won after a successful fight) fight the bulls.

Bullfighting has become somewhat of a controversial topic in Spain nowadays. In Catalonia (in the northern part of the country) this past year, bullfighting was outlawed as being animal cruelty. I can’t really say that I disagree with that… but I do also understand that bullfighting is historically an important part of Spain’s culture. I didn’t want to dismiss it as barbaric just because I have a different cultural outlook, and I feel like it’s necessary to experience “stereotypically Spanish” things while I’m here. So I was mostly looking forward to the fight as a chance to see something new.

The fight started at 5:30 in La Plaza del Toros. I had bought my tickets a day after my friends, so they sat together in another section while I sat alone in a different one. My seat was amazing, though. I accidentally sat in the wrong seat at first, and by then time the people who were supposed to sit there arrived, someone else had taken MY seat… but there were spaces to sit along the wall at the edge of the bullring, and a man offered a spot to me next to him. Coincidentally, most of the action of the bullfight took place RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME.

As you can see, the bullring is pretty large. I had difficulty taking some of the photos because of the odd lighting (sun and shadows), so bear with the quality! My light meter didn’t know what to do with itself…

These photos are all from the opening part of the event. First, those two men rode out on horses, then all the matadors came out and waved to the audience, and then these donkeys came out. The donkeys would later drag the dead carcass of the bull away after the fight (yes, appealing visual).

The first fight started out with the release of the bull. The bull came out looking very confused and afraid of the large crowd that he suddenly found himself in front of. He ran around a little, and then these other men started doing cape maneuvers with him.

I’m not entirely sure of the names of these men who play with the bull at the beginning of each fight… I thought they were called picadores, but this fight was advertised as “sin picadores” (without picadores), so I don’t know what to call them. Either way, there were about five of them who would call the bull towards them, and let him charge through their capes. They were unarmed, so if the bull charged at them, they would run behind a little partition in the wall to be safe from him.

After these men played with the bull, one or two of them would take turns stabbing the bull with sharp, hooked spears. They did this very theatrically… calling the bull towards them, raising the colorful spears and stabbing down forcefully. These spears would stay in the bull for the rest of the fight, if placed correctly.

This is when I started to feel a little upset about the bullfight. When the bull was stabbed, I saw it react with obvious pain, and it started bleeding terribly. I wouldn’t call myself a squeamish person, but I don’t like to see anything suffering or in pain, and I started to think about the bull’s perspective. I almost felt like crying, and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to watch the whole fight. But I was surrounded by lots and lots of Spaniards who saw nothing wrong with it… and I realized it would probably be bad if I cried or left or reacted badly, so I tried to just pull myself together and watch the rest of the fight.

The first fight, to be honest… was terrible. The bull appeared to be in a lot of pain for a long time, and didn’t die right away. It looks like it’s dying in that last picture, but actually it required MORE STABBING WITH A SWORD until it died.

Look at how bad that looked… and then, they finished it off by stabbing the bull IN THE HEAD. It was kind of sickening, but everyone around me cheered.

My seat was lucky for another reason too… I was sitting next to the father of one of the guys who play with the bull at the beginning of the fight. Although he spoke in fast Spanish, he was able to explain some of the aspects of the bullfight to me that I might not have otherwise understood. For example, at the end of the fight, it is decided whether a matador wins an ear or not. A matador doesn’t earn an ear just for killing the bull… it has to be a clean kill and a good fight. The judge sits in a special box, and if he puts out a white cloth at the end of the fight, the matador wins an ear. If the audience members think the matador should win, they wave their tickets at the end of the fight.

The second fight was more bearable than the first.

But in this fight, the bull was a bit more… angry. It actually flipped the matador over!

It was scary, but it kind of showed the real danger of the bullfight and put it into perspective, so it helped me feel better about watching the fight.

The third matador was clearly the best out of all the five who fought that day, and I was much more comfortable watching the fight because the bull seemed to suffer less.

At the end of the fight, he won the “oreja.” After he fought, the fourth matador came out.

It looks like he killed the bull in that last photo… but no. That was the first of FARR too many stabbings that it took to kill the bull. Like seriously. This guy kept stabbing the bull, but the sword would never go in far. It was just painful to watch (and certainly even more painful for the bull!).

Eventually, the bull was finally killed, and needless to say, he did NOT win an ear.

The last fighter was certainly the most theatric of them all. He kept turning his back to the bull and performing somewhat “acrobatic” maneuvers. He killed the bull cleanly, too, and won an ear.

Interestingly, and somewhat disturbingly, by the last fight, I was able to appreciate the subtleties and drama of the bullfights. I wasn’t as upset about the bulls (because I wasn’t thinking about it as much) and focused more on the movements of the matadors.

Overall, it was a new experience. I don’t think I’d like to go see another bullfight, but I’m glad that I took the opportunity to see this one while I was here. But it’s certainly not for the faint of heart.


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