Day 1,114 of Traveling the World, Retrospective: Bullfight, Madrid, Spain. February 18, 2021.

We went to a bullfight in Madrid on October 14, 2007. It was a first…and a last! Many people told us, as we traveled around Spain in 2007, that we should experience the excitement and “culture” that is inherent in a bullfight, one of the country’s proudest traditions, and the source of much debate. So, on a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon, we walked several miles through the city to get to the main bullring.

We didn’t understand the ticketing pricing system, as they showed us where our seats would be, and the price was very low, about 7 euros. The seats were fairly close to front and center, and we were thrilled. We later found out that the more expensive seats are in the shade, while ours, of course, were in full sun. You can clearly see the good seats in the fourth photo! But it was late afternoon, and after some time, we also were in the shade. All the normal snacks and drinks were for sale, as at a baseball or football game. But an elderly man with a small cooler kept running up and down the aisles yelling, “Wiki! Wiki!” We had no idea what was for sale until the people behind us told us he was selling shots of whiskey!

As it began, you can see the parade of the matadors and horses, waving and soaking up the admiration. You can see the horses are wearing protective coverings…in case they get gored! Prior to 1930, the horses wore no protection, and often the number of dead horses surpassed the number of dead bulls. Now, we must say, hoping not to offend any bullfighting aficionados, this is one miserable and pathetic sport. There is no fairness to it. There is no one-to-one competition, in the sense of healthy vs healthy.

Once the bull is released into the ring, the matador tests and evaluates it with a few swipes of his cape, to see what the bull is like and which of its sides it favors. Then he runs away. Then come the picadors on horseback, armed with lances, which they plunge into the bull to weaken it, teasing the bull so that it runs around the ring, losing blood and getting weaker. Only then does the matador appear, like a hero, and finish the bullfight, which is over once the bull dies (about 30 minutes later). But the matador doesn’t stay in the ring for 30 minutes with a full-bodied, healthy bull! Oh, no! He might get hurt! So the bull is weakened until he isn’t so much of a threat. Even so, some bulls have been strong enough and enraged enough to kill the matador.

In Spain, danger to the bullfighter is a requirement for their national pastime. Every season, matadors are gored. A total of 534 matadors have died in the bull ring over the past three centuries, the latest in 2017. Being from a country without a bullfighting tradition, it seemed pretty barbaric and very, very unfair to the bull. It has been outlawed in many countries, and there are places where the “bullfight” consists of men running around the ring in teams, teasing the bull, doing gymnastics, but with no blood shed. The bull lives to see another day, exactly as it should.

Much of the 2020 bullfighting season in Spain was canceled due to the Covid outbreak. In May, when over 26,000 Spaniards had died due to the pandemic, the bullfighting industry demanded the government compensate for industry losses, estimated at 700 million euros. Bullfighting has become an unpopular sport with much of the Spanish populace, so this demand caused outrage, prompting 100,000 people to sign a petition against the idea. All in all, the future of bullfighting in Spain does not look very bright.