There are lots of things that I love about Spain, and although I tend to dodge the coastal resorts that attract British holidaymakers in their Union Jack waving droves, there are plenty of other places in which you can immerse yourself in the Spanish culture and adopt their laid back way of life. My favourite place so far has been Seville, with its beautifully preserved architecture of many eras and styles, its temperate climate, tapas that are often too delicious for words, and the leisurely pace of everyday life there. Although I could write with enthusiasm simply about tapas, I wanted to talk instead about one of Spain’s oldest and most loved traditions: Bullfighting.
‘Corrida de Toros’, translated literally to mean ‘running of bulls’, is a traditional spectacle of Spain, Portugal, Southern France and some Latin American countries. During a traditional bullfight, one or more bulls are baited and killed in an arena for what many call sport, and many others may call entertainment. Followers of the spectacle on the other hand, will tell you with swollen pride that they regard it as ‘fine art’; on a par with painting, dancing and music, and that it is most definitely not merely a bloodsport.
The origins of bullfighting can be traced back to the prehistoric worship and sacrifice of bulls, and although it is often linked to Rome, its most colourful history can be found in Spain, where in the 18th century religious festivals and royal weddings were celebrated by fights in the local plaza. Nobleman would challenge the bulls on horseback, competing for royal favour and, although the Spaniards appeared to revel in the excitement, King Felipe deemed it a bad example to the public. In 1724, commoners took over. As these ordinary folk couldn’t afford horses to ride on, they began dodging the angry bulls on foot and this new adaptation of the fight quickly became a crowd pleaser, drawing spectators from far and wide. It was from here that the modern form of bullfighting we know today, began to take form.
Bullfighting is hard to avoid wherever you go in Spain. Gift shops sell everything from mugs and aprons to t-shirts and glassware, all emblazoned with the iconic image of the bull, and local bullfights are advertised everywhere you look. Seville is, in fact, home to Spain’s second-oldest bullfighting arena, otherwise known as a ‘Plaza de Toros’ or ‘bullring’, and although I have been there and had a brief look around the building, I just couldn’t muster up any genuine enthusiasm for it all and I definitely couldn’t be persuaded to go and watch a bullfight. I have the utmost respect for the culture and history of every country that I visit, but that doesn’t mean that I support all of their traditions, and I’m sorry to say that bullfighting just isn’t something you could pay me to watch.
The King of Spain is alleged to have stated that the day the EU bans bullfighting is the day Spain leaves the EU, so I know just how passionate Spaniards are about this long-standing tradition of theirs, and as my husband and I will be celebrating our 2nd wedding anniversary in Seville next month, he thinks we should go and watch one for ourselves. I’ve told him that he’ll be going on his own if it’s something that he really wants to do, but am I being overly sensitive and blind to its beauty as an artform?
Bullfighting may well require a lot of skill, and certainly a good deal of bravery given the proximity of the bull to the Matador–leaving him highly susceptible to being gored by a ferocious, horned beast–but aren’t these skilled and brave performers simply causing a great deal of pain and suffering to a creature that is virtually defenceless, irrespective of how impressive and artistic the whole ordeal may be? A pair of lethal horns are no match for several men brandishing lances and barbed sticks, some of whom are upon horseback, and after being speared for the first time, the bull will be forced to angrily defend itself while losing copious amounts of blood; fast becoming weaker with every passing minute.
Many say that as modern society changes and more and more of us begin to respect and demand the humane treatment of animals, traditions like bullfighting will inevitably be phased out, in much the same way as fox hunting in the UK. Although I can fully appreciate that the spectacle, whether as an artform or as a bloodsport, forms part of Spain’s heritage and culture and that it should certainly be remembered and respected by others, I don’t believe that justifies its place in our modern world, and it is something that I could never bring myself to support. I also can’t guarantee that I will still be on speaking terms with my husband if he does choose to witness the gruesome spectacle while we’re in Seville, although doubtless he’ll enjoy the peace and quiet of my disapproving muteness!