Spanish Bullfighting: What really happens in the arena

Believe it or not, I am sitting down to write a post that does not involve food. Shocking, I know. But rather than spending another ten euro on a plate full of deep fried regret, I laced up my boots and ventured into the sweltering heat of Sevilla to visit Spain´s oldest bullfighting arena. If you´re anything like me, you may envision bullfighting as a dramatic performance of man versus bull, playfully dancing in circles, waving silk sashes, concluding with a triumphant wink and a bow as the bull walks off in humiliation. And if you´re anything like me, you would be wrong.


The arena itself is beautifully ornate, with colors that grab your attention from three streets away. This is Spain´s oldest bullring, which began construction in 1749, but was not fully complete until 1881. The structure is massive and feels a bit like entering a dusty American football field. The big difference is, this circular field of golden dirt hosts a weekly massacre of bulls rather than a somewhat friendly game of catch and tackle. Foolishly, I thought bullfighting was just a charade of agile Spanish men wearing sequins and thick mustaches, whipping red scarves in the face of bulls. Thank heavens I went through the history tour before purchasing a seat in the evening show.


Spoiler alert: The fight always ends in death, and the poor bull doesn´t stand a chance. If you are a genuine animal lover, you may want to walk away now… Go watch AirBud or Milo and Otis and never read this post.

The fight is not one matador versus the bull. It consists of five toreros (the most professional being the matador), each executing various flesh wounds to weaken the already drugged bull. The heroic matador begins the fight by dancing around a bit in his fancy pants and lady loafers, then he sits in the back with a cup of tea and a cookie while the weaker toreros do all the dirty work. A horseman with a long spear inflicts the first wound, followed by three other cloaked killers who lace the bull in barbs and ribboned daggers. It´s honestly quite heartbreaking. The sport concludes with the matador triumphantly killing the bull with just one blow from a long sword, an action referred to as the estocada. I suppose after this final move the matador parades around the arena, stroking his stache, pumping a fist and smirking out “De nada. De nada.” The followers of bullfighting consider it a fully developed art form, as prestigious as painting or sculpting.


I can´t even begin to tell you how I feel about it. I will say everyone on the tour turned a shade of grayish-green while looking at photos, and we stared at the matador statues in disgust and shame, as if they were busts of Leatherface. I don´t think much of eating a steak, but to see this form of art in execution felt about the same as watching someone punch a kitten. It´s definitely a sport I will never partake in.


Trying to calm our uneasy nerves, the tour guide did say the president reserves the right to release the bull if he is very strong and puts up a good fight. This statement was almost humbling until I asked, “Does that happen often?”

“Only 2 bulls in 75 years have been saved.” With this, all of our optimistic shoulders fell in sadness and no one purchased a ticket for the evening.

But I will say, the arena was stunning. And if bullfighting were simply a show of a man in sparkling shoulder pads playing tag with a horned cow, I may very well be thrilled to toss over twenty euro and eat a bag of caramel corn in the stands. But until that day comes, I´ll stay away from the ring and never order braised bull tail in Spain again.

One thought on “Spanish Bullfighting: What really happens in the arena

  1. It was good of you to include the good, the bad, and the ugly in your blog. As much as I love rainbows, lollipops, and sunshine it is nice to expose your audience to the cruel reality that exists and flourishes in a region you are visiting/have visited.

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