Since the 18th century, masses of Spanish citizens of all ages and backgrounds have been to the bullring every weekend to see what is considered to be “a different type of art”, one that could not be bought or hung on a wall. For centuries bullfighting has been deemed the pride of the Spainairds, yet today, the same art has become perhaps the most controversial Spanish tradition.
The art of killing a bull is referred to as tauromachy, and it is one of the most ancient traditions in Spain. It consists on a confrontation between a man and a bull in a bullring in front of hundreds of people.
In one typical afternoon’s corrida (Spanish for a bullfight) three matadors (the main performers in a bullfight) kill two bulls each, and every encounter lasts about fifteen minutes. During each act the matadors enter the ring accompanied by their assistants, bandilleros and picadors, while the traditional Spanish “Paso doble” music plays in the background.
The first stage of bullfighting is called “Tercio de Varas” which means “Third of lances”. In this stage the bull enters the ring and the matador proceeds to test the bull’s behaviour using the Capote. Then the Picadores enter the bullring with the main focus of exhausting the beast for the other two stages. The second stage is called “Tercio de Banderillas” which translates to “Third of flags”. In this stage three bandilleros strike two banderillas each into the bull’s shoulders, weakening it even further. The last stage denominated as “Tercio de muerte”, meaning “Third of death”, the matador re-enters the bullring. After observing the bull’s reactions in the previous two stages, the matador proceeds to perform a series of passes to place the bull into a position for it to be killed with the estocada.
The most crucial and exciting part of the corrida is when the matador delivers the fatal drive that kills the bull: one stroke is admirable, but killing the bull in two blows is barely acceptable in this practice. However, it is not easy to stand in front of a 600kg beast with hundreds of people staring, and it takes years of practice for a matador acquire the necessary skills to provide the audience with an enjoyable show. Unlike in many sports, the performance of a matador is judged directly by the audiences. If the matador’s performance were deemed excellent, the public would award the matador with a standing ovation as well as one or two ears and the tail of the bull. On the other hand, if the bull’s performance were more exceptional, the crowd would give applause to the dead bull. Ernest Hemingway said “Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighters honour.” And Frederico Garcia Lorca described it as “probably Spain’s greatest poetic and life-sustaining wealth, the most cultured fiesta anywhere in the world”
However, now days this century-old tradition of honour is the cause of very strong opinions among the Spanish society. While some people view it as the essence of the Spanish spirit, others consider bullfighting as a mere act of unjustified violence against animals.
In the south of Spain bullfighting has an especially strong presence, and it is considered one of the key aspects of the Spanish culture. For southern Spaniards, bullfighting is much more than a man defeating a bull, it is a sport as well as an art, and it requires lots of years of training and dedication. Supporters of bullfighting strongly believe that this part of their cultural heritage should be preserved for future generations, and its loss would doom our children’s cultural background.
However, in other parts of Spain, especially the north, this tradition is seen as something Spaniards should be ashamed of. Organizations such as Peta, ADDA (Asociación Defensa Derechos Animal) and the CAS (Anti-Bullfighting Committee) often asking supporters how is it possible that people are proud of being known as bull-slaughters. These animal rights activists consider bullfighting as a cruel bloodsport that consists on attacking innocent animals for the entertainment of citizens, and they’re increasingly popular among Spanish citizens. Recent polls show that in some areas around 70% of the population is either not interested or openly against bullfighting, and you could often find protestors outside major bullfighting rings across the country.
Anti-bullfighting campaigns have also gone political. For the Catalan Parliament, bullfighting is often used as a political tool used to advocate independence. Members of the Catalan parliament have dubbed bullfighting a ‘foreign’ custom with no place on Catalan soil, and a ban on bullfighting was passed by parliament in Catalonia, prohibiting this practice in the autonomous community. The ban came into effect on the 1st of January 2012, and it created a series of different responses. While some animal activist approved of this ban, others opposed it by saying that it was motivated by political nationalism and not animal welfare. Catalonia’s parliament is the only one in Spain that has passed a ban on bullfighting for now. However, it is still unclear whether other autonomous communities will follow their example.
Traditions such as bullfighting, are archaic and unconventional forms of art that have survived many generations up to this day without any major changes in form. Although some view it as part of the Spanish cultural heritage, the view of those who consider bullfighting as a blood sport is also understandable. The Spanish poet Federico García Lorca once said that “bullfighting is the most poetic and vital aspect of Spain”. However, whether this tradition still has a place in the modern world is still up to debate.