The controversy of ‘Corrida de Toros’- taking the bull by the horns

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So far we’ve covered various aspects of what preparing for a trip entails and how to manage when you get there.This week I chose to indulge myself by focusing on one of my personal cultural interests in the hope of opening a discussion and shedding light on a subject that many people seem to feel passionately about.

What is bullfighting?

Bullfighting has been recognised as a sport, a bloodsport, a cultural tradition, a fine art form, and an atrocity against animal rights amongst many other things. I would argue that all of the above titles are apt however, each individual will most likely lean toward a label they feel is the most suitable. On a purely factual basis, bullfighting occurs mostly seasonally, held as a series of special events in venues specially designed for such occasions.

The Matador, Banderilleros and Bull in action

According to the ever genius wikipedia “The tradition, as it is practiced today, involves professional toreros (also called “matadors”) who execute various formal moves which can be interpreted and innovated according to the bullfighter’s style or school. Toreros seek to elicit inspiration and art from their work and an emotional connection with the crowd transmitted through the bull. Such maneuvers are performed at close range, which places the bullfighter at risk of being gored or trampled. After the bull has been hooked multiple times behind the shoulder by other matadors in the arena, the bullfight usually concludes with the killing of the bull by a single sword thrust, which is called estocada. In Portugal, the finale consists of a tradition called the pega, where men (forcados) try to grab and hold the bull by its horns when it runs at them”. It is also illegal to kill a bull in the arena in Portugal.

From my limited observation, most bull fights will consist of two teams that compete and will generally ‘fight’ three bulls each alternately throughout the course of an evening. Points can be scored for the smoothe execution of manoeuvres.

Many different members of the team exist such as picadores, matadors, and banderilleros amongst others depending on which cultural tradition is being followed. Other differences may include horseback bullfighting, colours and uniforms, and the apparatus used by fighters.

Los Picadores

What is the appeal?

  • As someone previously unfamiliar with Spanish and Spanish colonial cultural practices, the first attraction to the phenomenon of bullfighting for me personally is the novelty.
  •  Next is the opportunity to see the attitudes of locals toward such a spectacle. Naturally this will include both supportive and adverse attitudes so to get a balanced opinion I have sought out the insight of Spanish and Spanish colonial people across the spectrum.
  • Another strong drawing card for me is the architecture of the venues. Beginning with the ‘la Maestranza’ in Sevilla, Andalucia, Spain, the ‘plaza de toros’ will vary from place to place in diameter, colour, and height, and are fascinating cultural monuments in their own right. A visit to La Maestranza will allow you the opportunity to take a guided tour of the arena, visiting a bullfighting museum and a chapel where many matadors choose to give praise before a fight.

    Me at La Maestranza

  • Many people will liken a modern bullfight to that of the battles in the Roman Colosseum which suggests a thirst for gory entertainment over a long period of time.

Where does bullfighting happen

Originating in the Liberian peninsula, Bull fighting has spread to south and central American colonies, the south of France and some more obscure places such as India and Oman where the beginnings of the tradition appear slightly different.

How does bullfighting fit into contemporary culture?

As a general trend, the attitudes of Spanish people towards bullfighting seem to be the most commonly documented. Carrie B Douglass notes the discomfort many Spanish people experience regarding the strong association between bullfighting and all things Spanish. Most Spanish people I know are not keen advocates of the sport but seem to have some level of cultural respect (albeit somewhat indifferent) to the preservation of this cultural tradition. When investigating the differences in attitude between different cultures where bullfighting is a tradition, it would seem that many differences in practice will evoke criticism from other bullfighting cultures. An example of this would be the difference between Spanish and Portugese bullfighting. In Spain it is considered a sign of disrespect to make certain kinds of contact with a bull whereas in Portugal the last part of the fight includes grabbing the bull by the horns. As an inverse perspective, the Portugese consider the Spanish method barbaric as the bull is killed in the Arena which is illegal in Portugal. I am lead to believe Mexican bullfighting is generally considered one of the most brutal, however this is likely based on hearsay and cultural bias. Bullfighting today seems to occur alongside holiday celebrations and major occasions in local areas. The biggest taurian occasion must surely be ‘los san fermines’ or the running of the bulls, held in Pamplona Spain (which will feature in a future article of its own). One theme of this festival is young people coming from all over the bull fighting world to pay homage to taurian tradition.

And then??

Overall I firmly believe that bull fighting is an important, complex cultural tradition that should be preserved. Having said this I would prefer if possible that this tradition continues in moderation and maintains a greater level of legend rather than frequency.


  • Bulls, Bullfighting and Spanish tradition, Carrie B. Douglass (1997) The University of Arizona press
  • Wikipedia
  • Bloodsport, a social history of Spanish bullfighting, T Mitchell (1991) (Abstract referenced only)