physical contest that involves a bullfighter and a bull

Bullfighting is a sport that pits man against beast. In the classic Spanish bullfight, a matador and his support team weaken and then kill a bull as thousands of spectators cheer. Bullfighting originated in the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) and is also practiced in southern France. It is popular across Latin America where bullfights are still performed in Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru.

Bullfight in Mexico City

Understand

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Bullfighting is controversial with most animal rights organizations working to ban the sport. Spain and Mexico (the two countries where it is most popular) have seen dwindling audiences since 2000 as people increasingly question the value of a cultural tradition based on bloodthirsty animal cruelty. Activists regularly challenge the sport in court, and in 2022, the world's largest bullring (Mexico City) was forced to cancel its season. In December 2023, the Mexican Supreme Court reversed the lower court ruling and bullfighting has resumed in Mexico City.

Proponents of bullfighting point to its long and colorful history and argue that it is an integral part of Hispanic heritage. (The first bullfights were held in 711...the year, not the convenience store).

Arguments will undoubtedly continue, both in the courts and the court of popular opinion.

Stadiums

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Bullrings vary in size from accommodating a few thousand spectators to very large facilities that seat more than 40,000. Ticket prices vary considerably depending on your proximity to the bullring and whether you will be sitting in the sunny side of the stadium (sol) or the shady side (sombra). Sombra tickets are usually more expensive than sol.

Rules of the game

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Most bullfights follow the traditional Spanish model (corridas), however bullfights in some areas are quite different and are referred to as recortes.

Corridas

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An afternoon at the bullfights (called corridas) typically involves three matadors, each squaring off against two bulls. (Six bullfights.)

The hero (or the villain, depending on your perspective) is the matador. He is the star of the show and is expected to kill the bull. (Over the past 300 years, more than 500 matadors have ended up getting killed by the bull, but the odds are severely stacked in favor of the matador.) Assisting the matador are 6 assistants who will drive lances or darts into the bull to weaken him.

 
Picador at a bullfight in Jalisco
  • picadores - men with lances (spears) mounted on horseback who will drive spears into the bull to weaken him
  • bandererillos - men with darts with colored flags attached who run up next to the bull and drive the darts into the bull's muscles to further weaken him

The bullfight is divided into thirds:

  • 1) Tercio de varas - the bull is released and the matador tests the bull to size him up, a picador rides in and plants a lance in the bull
  • 2) Tercio de Banderillas - the bandererillos come in and attempt to drive their darts into the bull's shoulders, these not only weaken the bull, they piss him off so he becomes fiercer, angrier, and puts on a better show for the crowd
  • 3) Tercio de Muerte - in the final act of the bullfight, the matador comes out alone with his cape and sword, waves the cape and seems to dance with the injured bull until he finally drives his blade into the animal, killing him

Recortes

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Raseteur

An alternate style of bullfight known as recortes (or cocarde Camarguaise in France) is quite different from the Spanish corrida because the bull isn't killed and there are no matadors, picadors, or bandererillos. This style of bullfight is found in the Basque region of Spain and in southern France (but corridas can also be found in those regions).

At a recorte, a ribbon is attached to the bulls horns and released into the bullring. Several men called raseteurs spread out and taunt the bull, telling him that the ribbons make him look like a sissy. The angry bull chases the raseteurs, who try to pluck the ribbon off the bull without getting trampled or gored. The raseteurs use strategy when taunting the bull to get him to chase different raseteurs and wear down his strength.

Encierros

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Encierro in Pamplona, Spain

Closely associated with bullfighting are "running of the bulls" events, which involve letting loose a group of 6 or more bulls to run through city streets, typically ending at a bullring. People get in the streets and try to outrun the bulls, though runners are frequently injured or killed. Many runners have been gored by the bulls, while others have died by being trampled, or by suffocating after falling and having runners behind trip and pile on a heap. The city of Pamplona estimates that 50-100 people are injured in its encierros each year.

The most famous encierro is the running of the bulls during the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona Spain. It's not the origin of the event though. In fact, the oldest encierro is in Cuellar (outside Valladolid) Spain, which has had "running of the bulls" events since 1215 (more than 8 centuries). The town of Navalcarnero (outside Madrid) also has encierros, with the added twist that the running is held at night.

Running of the bulls events are also common in Portugal, southern France, and Mexico.

In Portugal, the town of Sabugal has encierros. In Mexico, the towns of Huamantla, Xico and Salvatierra have running of the bulls events in association with local festivals.

Destinations

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Map of Bullfighting
 
Inside Plaza Las Ventas
  • 1 Plaza las Ventas, Madrid, Spain. The world's top bullring seats 23,000 spectators. It is a place of bullfighting history, pageantry and tradition. Museo Taurino is the onsite museum about the history and traditions of bullfighting.
 
World's oldest bullring in Seville
  • 2 Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza, Sevilla, Spain. The world's oldest bullring, it was built in 1761 and is regarded as the second-most important bullring in Spain, after Madrid. Tours are offered daily and an on-site museum features art about bullfighting.
  • 3 Plaza de Toros Pamplona, Pamplona. Pamplona is known for its annual San Fermin festival featuring the "running of the bulls" when people try to outrun a group of bulls let loose at 8am in the city streets, ending at the Plaza de Toros. The festival also includes nightly bullfights in the historic 1920 era bullring that seats 19,720 spectators.
  • 4 Les Arènes (Roman Amphitheatre), Nîmes, France. A well preserved Roman arena built in 100 AD that hosts bull fighting events during the annual Feria de Nîmes.    
  • 5 Plaza Monumental Mexico (Plaza Mexico), Cd. Deportes, Mexico City (Metro to San Antonio (line 2)). The world's largest bullring is in the heart of Mexico City. It seats 48,000 blood-thirsty spectators. Although bullfighting was suspended for a while due to a lower court ruling, the Supreme Court reversed the rule and today bullfighting has resumed. As of 2024, there are correos for female bullfighters to demonstrate their skills in the ring (and yes, some lady matadors do have pink capes).
  • 6 Plaza Monumental Aguascalientes, Aguascalientes, Mexico. The bullfighting season is typically April-May. Corridas are usually on weekends, but there are some on Monday or Thursdays. M$200 (cheap seats, sol) to M$2000 (good seats, sombra).
  • 7 Plaza de Toros La Coleta, San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico. Bullring in rural state of Chiapas. Frequently used as a concert venue.
  • 8 Nuevo Toreo de Tijuana, Buenos Aires, Tijuana. The bullring near the beach might not be hosting corridas, but bullfighting fans might still be able to see traditional corridas at the Nuevo Toreo de Tijuana “Carlos Bowser González”, though legal challenges plague the venue.
  • 9 Plaza de Toros de Merida (Román Eduardo Sandia Briceño), Mérida, Venezuela. Large bullring with a seating capacity of 15,000 spectators, built in 1967. Hosts the "Bullfight Carnival of America" event.
  • 10 Plaza los Toros Manizales, Cra. 27, Manizales, Colombia. 15,000 seat bullring built in the 1940s. Bullfights are held each year during the livestock festival, first week of January.
  • 11 Plaza de Toros Cartagena, Cartagena, Colombia. Beautiful historic bullring constructed in 1853 to resemble a Roman amphitheatre. The three-level bullring seats 8,000 spectators.
  • 12 Plaza de Toros de Acho, Lima, Peru. The oldest bullring in the Americas (and second oldest in the world) was built in 1766 in Lima Peru. The 13,700 seat stadium is said to be haunted by the ghost of Juan Suarez, a matador who died in the bullring when a bull trampled him, crushing his skull.

Former destinations

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Several localities have banned bullfighting as well as other blood sports. Many travel websites continue to list outdated information and of course print travel guides also go out of date. Don't go out of your way to see a bullfight at these bullrings:

  • 1 La Monumental, Barcelona. The last commercial bullring in Barcelona before the government of Catalonia banned the sport in 2012. While the ban was overturned by the Spanish Constitutional Court in 2016, no bullfights have taken place here since.    
  • 2 Plaza de Toros Cancun, Av. Bonampak esquina Sayil, Cancun. Cancun banned bullfighting and cock-fighting in 2020. Watching a bullfight was formerly a popular activity for foreign tourists. Since 2020, the venue has been repurposed for concerts, lucha libre and similar events with an area of outdoor restaurants.
  • 3 Plaza de Toros Nuevo Progreso, Guadalajara. As of November 2023, bullfighting was suspended in Guadalajara's 16,500 seat bullring due to court order. Bullfights are still conducted a few kilometers outside the city in the nearby suburb of Tlaquepaque.
  • 4 Plaza de Toros Real de San Carlos, Colonia, Uruguay. Opened in 1910 but was nearly unused as a bullring; the activity was banned nationwide in 1912.

Go Next

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Japan has another kind of bullfighting: head-to-head duel by two animals, often called "bull sumo". Go to Uwajima, Ehime, for example.

See also

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