Bullfighting In Madrid: Tradition or terror?

Posted in: Madrid


A toro prepares to charge at a bullfight in Madrid. Photo: Redswept
A toro prepares to charge at a bullfight in Madrid. Photo: Redswept

There are a few “hot topics” sure to stir the pot at any dinner party in Madrid: language (Castilian vs Basque, Catalan, etc), football (Barça vs Real Madrid) and bullfighting. While many defend bullfighting as an art and tradition important to Spanish culture, others think of it as barbaric and archaic. Where do you stand?

A cultural thing?

About ten years ago I wasn’t sure what to think about bullfighting, and figured, like many foreigners do, that it was a good show and part of the culture. So I went to the bullring and saw the fight. Now, this was in Mexico not Spain, but the concept is the same.

I’ve not been to another bullfight and did not get through the fight in Mexico. That’s the thing about bullfighting, they kill the bull. You need to be ready to see a bloody fight if you go to the bullring. This is not your typical Western Rodeo. If you get queasy when you order fish and it comes with the head still on, think twice about bullfighting.

Bullfighting in Madrid

But what if you want to see Spain like Hemingway did? The dust, the grace, the thrill of the clash between man and beast? Well then you can, at one of Madrid’s Sunday bullfights at Plaza de Toros las Ventas. From March to October, there are fights on regularly, and if you do your homework you can plan to see a famous Spanish bullfighter in the ring. Bullfights are called “corridas de toros” and tickets at Las Ventas go between €5 and €150.

For the most part, the bull dies. It dies because it is repeatedly wounded and subsequently loses blood and the strength to fight. Once in a while a bull might injure, maim or kill a “matador” or bullfighter, too. So this is another aspect you must be prepared for at a bullfight, that is, the possibility that you might witness a human death. This is not your average sport where a soccer player sprains an ankle!

…and throughout Spain

Of course, Madrid is not the only place in Spain where you can watch men in tight costumes against pissed-off bulls. Indeed, bullfighting still happens all over Spain.

One of the most popular bullfighting “fiestas” is San Fermin in Pamplona, which is coming up next month in July. If you’ve read The Sun Also Rises, by our friend Hemingway, then you have some idea of what to expect from Pamplona. During San Fermin bulls run through the streets into the bullring early in the morning. The daring and sober are able to run with these bulls, and many do each year. It’s important to mention that each year runners are also seriously injured and at times killed.

Supporters and detractors

Not everyone supports bullfighting for reasons that I think are pretty obvious. Animal rights groups are clearly against bullfighting claiming that the activity taunts and tortures the animal.

Also, bullfighting is seen as a very Spanish sport. Therefore, some who do not feel Spanish and may even wish to separate from Spain are against bullfighting. This is the case for many in Catalonia, where bullfighting was banned in 2010 (the ban was the result of many factors). In Barcelona, the elaborate bullring on Plaça Espanya is now a mall; go figure.

Your take on bullfighting?

After more than six years in Spain, I’ve got to say that I am not for bullfighting, and you won’t see me running with the bulls or in the ring.

What about you? Where do you stand on this controversial “sport”? Share with us in the comments section.

Also in our guide: If you’re preparing for a trip to Madrid any time soon, be sure to charge over to our guide to budget travel in Madrid. We have advice and tips for visiting Madrid without spending to much on hotels, food and sightseeing.

About the author

Regina W Bryan

About the author: Regina W.Bryan is a Barcelona-based freelance writer and photographer. When not eating tapas and exploring Europe, she is tending her balcony veggie garden and practicing Catalan. For more of her thoughts on Spain, check: www.regwb.com and www.thespainscoop.com.

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2 thoughts on “Bullfighting In Madrid: Tradition or terror?”

  1. I’ve had it explained to me this way: do you eat hamburgers? Do you wear leather shoes? Definitely some people are vegan/vegetarian and that’s the end of that discussion and that’s fine. But if you do wear leather, eat beef and/or other meat, keep in mind that those animals are killed as well — in a slaughterhouse. Sometimes it’s quick and painless, sometimes it’s less so.

    The argument a Spaniard once made to me is that with a bullfight the bull is given a chance. It’s not much of a chance. The odds are stacked against it and we, the audience, are witnessing … literally cruelty to animals. But the bull DOES have a chance, however small. The bull can show how big and brave and majestic it is– and they do. And when they do, the audiences cheer. (That’s what they’re cheering– the bravery in the face of death for both the bull and the matador.)

    If the matador is cruel, inexact or cowardly, the audience will chase him down the street afterwards — and the insults they hurl are the least of his problem.

    I’ve had the opportunity to witness multiple corridas, all at Ventas in Madrid. Some I have disliked. The last one I went to had one of the bravest, most impressive bulls I’ve ever seen. He didn’t make it, but the audience cheered and he got a once-around the ring for his performance.

    Not everyone’s going to be a fan of this and frankly, if bullfighting dies out, I won’t be that upset but it’s important to know that for some people who are aficionados of the corridas, it’s all about the bull — a giant, magnificent and brave animal — getting a chance, albeit small, to die in glory.

  2. There is a wide cultural gap between the customs and traditions among the countries and bullfighting surely is a reason for passionate discussions. I am enchanted by the way Hemingway described the torida and a part of me desperately needs to witness the unique thrill, but on the other hand I have bunch of second thoughts being unsure whether I woudl bear the bloody scene with the poor dying animal.


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