An Age-Old Spanish Spectacle Combining Drama and Local Flavour
Bullfights are one of the most deeply rooted traditions in Spanish culture, documented as far back as 1200 CE; however, their continuing presence has grown somewhat controversial.
Despite the debate it arouses, bullfighting remains a popular attraction in several places across Spain. Foremost among these are Madrid (at the Las Ventas and Vista Alegre venues), Seville (whose iconic Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza is arguably the country's best-known bullring) and Valencia (whose ring is just steps from the main train station). On the other hand, some former hotspots such as Barcelona no longer host the sport.
The peak season for fights every year is from March/April to September/October, during which you are almost guaranteed to find one to attend somewhere every week. The highlights on the bullfighting calendar include Holy Week and Easter (Semana Santa and Pascua in Spanish), plus local festivals such as the Feria de Julio and Las Fallas (Valencia), San Isidro and the Feria de Otoño (Madrid), and the Feria de Abril (Seville). Tickets can usually be bought in advance directly from the bullrings.
Bullfights follow a codified and somewhat ceremonial format, featuring wild bulls and bullfighters in elaborate clothing. Dangers are ever present; thus, bullfighters draw on varying customs and superstitions to face their mighty horned opponents, which sometimes weigh over 500kg.
The bullfight takes place in three parts, called tercios (thirds in Spanish). During the first tercio, the bullfighter measures the bull’s strength and ambition. In the second tercio, the banderillas (assisting bullfighters) drive a long barbed stick into the bull's back. The third (final) tercio is when the bull and the Matador ("killer of bulls" in Spanish) meet face to face.
Bullfights end with the bull's death, ensuring the sport's status as a controversial part of Spanish culture, both praised and criticised by local society. In that way, similarities can be drawn with bull running, another characteristic Spanish spectacle which centres on Pamplona during the San Fermín festival in July, but which can also be found in Denia (near Alicante) and San Sebastián de los Reyes (on the outskirts of Madrid), among others.