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Thursday, November 1, 2007 (read 3847 times)

About bullfighting - and bullfighting vocabulary you are sure to hear

by Erin

One of our interns prepared this article about bullfighting for the English language press in Spain. Much of the vocabulary of the corrida has made its way into everyday Spanish conversation, as colorful metaphor. The article explains the corrida, without condoning or condemning it, and gives you some of that corrida-inspired vocabulary, so you'll know  recognize it when you hear it!

Few modern day spectator sports provoke quite as much controversy as bullfighting and yet it would be difficult to imagine Spanish identity without it.

To its supporters it is a way of life, an art form involving ceremony and ritual. To its detractors it amounts to little more than barbaric torture and slaughter. Yet to many foreigners, for whom the killing of an animal for sport in a ring is a totally alien concept, Spanish bullfighting is a complex tradition to understand or accept – both in physical and moral terms.

A bullfight it about many things – performance, bravery, skill and death. No doubt it is also bloody and shocking, but its supporters argue that a bull is better off dying on the point of a matador´s sword than in the abbatoir (matadero). To witness a bullfight might not necessarily mean to condone it, but it may provide an insight into this Spanish tradition and make parts of Spanish identity a little easier to understand.

Bullfighting's origins
Bullfighting of one form or another has been around for centuries and its precise history is difficult to chart. Strong evidence exists to suggest that its roots can be traced back to prehistoric bull worship and sacrifice by the Celtic-Iberians, whilst others have argued that its origins actually lie in the traditions of Ancient Rome, when human vs. animal combat was a popular warm up act to the gladiatorial sports. Alternatively, bullfighting may have been introducted to Iberia by the Moors in the 11th century, where the bull was fought on horseback using a javelin (similar to the modern Portuguese bullfight).

However by the Middle Ages, bullfighting in Spain had evolved into a sport practiced by the nobility in a similar manner to hunting and jousting. Religious festivals, royal weddings and events celebrated with fights in the town or city's plaza, where noblemen would ride competing for royal favour. In the 18th century, it has been argued that the Spanish king Felipe V took exception to the sport and banned it, saying that it set a bad example. However its popularity was such that the commoners kept the sport going, and, since they could not afford the horses began the practice of dodging the bulls on foot and using capes to aide in positioning the bulls.

By the 1720s this new form of bullfighting was drawing even larger crowds, prompting the construction of dedicated bullrings. Initially they were square in shape, but later the design changed to a circle to discourage the cornering of any action. The bullfight, or corrida, has changed little since 1726, when Francisco Romero fought on foot and paved the way for the modern style seen today.

The modern corrida
A Spanish bullfight involves three matadores or toreros and six bulls, the bulls being at least four years old and and weighs 460-600 k. Each matador has six assistants – two picadores or "lancers", mounted on horseback, three banderilleros or "flagmen" and a mozo de espada or "sword servant". Collectively they make up a cuadrilla or team of bullfighters.

The whole spectacle is highly ritualized and conforms to a time honoured set of rules and traditions, opening with a parade of all the participants into the arena to salute the presiding dignitary, accompanied by music from a band. Two alguacilillos on horseback look up to the president's box and symbolically ask for the keys to the puerta de los toriles, the door behind which the bulls are waiting.

The fight is divided into three stages and on the release of the first bull the first stage, the tercio de varas, begins. The matador and banderillos test the bull for its ferocity and the matador has his first confrontation with the bull using a gold and pink dress cape or capote. Then two picadores enter the ring on horseback and one stabs the mound of muscle in the back of the bull´s neck. Although this seems unecessary, doing so lowers the bull's blood pressure so that it does not have a heart attack and weakens its massive head and neck muscles.

The second stage, or tercio de banderillas, sees the three banderilleros each attempt to plant two barbed sticks into the bull's neck. This further weakens the bull's neck whilst spurring the bull into making more ferocious charges.

The final stage, the tercio de muerte, sees the matador back in the arena, alone and armed with a smaller, red cape and a sword. He uses the cape to attract the attention of the bull in a series of moves, demonstrating both his control over it and his daring by getting very close to it and even turning his back on it and walking away!

This faena, or work, is the most important part of the fight and the matador must attempt to manoeuvre the bull into position so that he can stab it between the shoulder blades and cleanly pierce the aorta or heart. This final act is often very quick and the bull dies instantly and is carried out by harnessed horses.

If the crowd believes that the matador has done well, the arena rises to their feet and waves white handkerchiefs, shouting in approval. The president judges the performance and will award the bull's ears, tail and occasionally hoof to the matador as a prize. The matador then does a lap of honour around the ring, people throwing hats, scarves, flowers and even jugs of wine down to him!  League tables of matadors are maintained each season based on the number of bulls they have fought and the number of ears and tails awarded.

When the sixth and final bull is dead, the matadors and their teams return to the ring and cross the arena in a symbolic act – that man has defeated death and is immortal.

Spain's Bullrings
Many of Spain's bullrings are hundreds of years old, and even if you don't fancy seeing the fight are well worth a visit for their architecture whilst many also house little museums. A law passed in 1996 organised bullrings, or plazas de toros, into three categories according to their age, size and number of events staged there each year. The rings in Bilbao, San Sebastián, Zaragoza, Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Córdoba, Seville and Málaga are all classed as first class rings. The oldest bullring in Spain is in Ronda and dates from the 1700s whilst Seville´s ring, the Real Maestranza, has a seating capacity of 10,000!

Keywords: corrida,bull fighting,vocabulary,toros,toreros,toerisme,sports,spanish culture,spanish


1 » Anonymous (on Wednesday, July 29, 2009) said:

I hated bullfighting after first seeing it and even started to write my thesis on it thinking it would turn out to be a condemnation of this art (or brutal demonic ritual, as I thouht of it back then), but after reading Hemingway's "Death in the afternoon" and maybe even more so in the case of James Michener's "Iberia", I really started to see it as an art and a truly noble one at that. Funny how great books can change your principles and way of seeing things. Try it. I definitely plan to see more corridas when or if I ever return to Spain.

2 » Anonymous (on Tuesday, December 9, 2008) said:

Bullfighting sounds horrible. Who would go to see a bull die?

3 » Mary-Anne (on Sunday, January 13, 2008) said:

Bullfighting seems so violent and I don't get it why they have to kill the poor animal!

4 » Ceci (on Tuesday, November 11, 2014) said:

Bullfighting is a violent and cruel way to kill an animal. Just investigate what people do to the bull two days before a bullfight. It is very very cruel. No art at all. Poor bulls. It is very very painful.

5 » Lucia (on Tuesday, November 11, 2014) said:

Bullfighting is a very cruel way to kill an animal. It is terrible what the poor bull has to endure to make people excited. That is a very cruel way to treat an animal that has been treated wrongly since it is little.

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