Spanish bullfighting

Story and photos by Kariann Mano

The bull bucked matador Jimenez Fortes right off the ground, then proceeded to run over Fortes, causing injury to the fan-favorite.

A handful of students who bought tickets for one of the bullfights that happen daily in May because of the San Isidro bullfight festival witnessed the injury and much more. This festival brings the best bullfighters, bulls and fans together in one place: La Plaza de Toros where the Las Ventas bullring stands.


Eastern facade of Las Ventas bullfighting ring

The International Media class toured here the first day after landing in Madrid. Though it wasn’t busy during the day of the short tour, the plaza is filled in the evening with vendors selling souvenirs, flags, food, shirts, and candy … anything to earn a few euros.

With hundreds, even thousands of fans surrounding the bullring, tickets were still being sold for the May events, even those scheduled for that day. Ticket offices were small booths that line the outside of the plaza, selling tickets for “Sun or Shade,” a simple way to choose your seat. While sun is cheapest because it does not provide the luxury of being in the shade out of the heat, the entire ring has the same type of seat: tan concrete benches with white painted numbers displaying the seat number. Some rented seat cushions for over one euro, while others opted to sit on the hard concrete.

The arena was filled upon entry. Unlike most United States sporting events, the bullfight started immediately at 7 p.m. as it was scheduled.

There are three matadors who fight two bulls, one bull in the first round and then one again in the second round once the first three have been killed. Each matador has a 15-minute session with the bull to fight.

Matador costumes are lavish. They are colorful and always have braided gold embroidered on the tops of their sleeves. This helps distinguish them from their picadors, his band of fighters.

A matador first receives his bull by standing or on his knees in front of the gate where the bull is released. Farmers raise bulls on large open land where they graze.


Inside the bullfighting ring

Once the bull is released, the picadors “help” their matador agitate the bull with banderillas, barbed sticks that are decorated with color and tassels. Picadors walk up to the bull and stab two banderillas into the bull’s back that help to weaken the bull. There are two large, white circles outlined with chalk in the ring. The matadors try to keep the bull in the innermost ring to show control of the bull.

There are two picadors on horseback. The horses are armored with heavy leather panels around one side of their bodies, while their other side is protected from the wall of the ring. The picadors use long lances to penetrate the bull’s neck, weakening its neck muscles.

It is after the “help” from the picadors that the matador attempts his show. Using his cape, the matador passes the bull by keeping the cape as close to his body as possible, showing off in an artistic, somewhat arrogant way. After passing the bull so many times, the matador takes a long sword to kill the bull. The matador stabs the sword into the bull’s shoulder blades, then pounds on its head as its dying.

After the bull dies, it is dragged out of the ring by a number of horses. It is hooked behind the horses as they run to another gate where a butcher awaits its fresh meat.

The audience judges the fight the entire session. If there are whistles in the crowd, that means the crowd is not impressed and does not like what they are seeing. If they are impressed, they clap, according to tour guide Mauricio Macarron Larumbe.

The president of bullfighting is in charge, though. If he waves a white handkerchief, the president is impressed and the matador receives an ear from its bull, a trophy. He is also in charge of moving the fight along and encouraging the brass band to play to signal the bull to be released from the gate.

The last fight the students saw was that of Jimenez Fortes. Macarron said he was doing stunts with his cape he should not have been doing, and that is when the bull took his chance. The bull charged at Fortes, flipping him off the ground, goring him with one horn in the neck. The next moment he was being trampled on by the bull and gored yet again.

Fortes walked off with his hands holding his neck but was soon carried by his fellow picadors into the gates, where a doctor was waiting.

While Fortes was checked on by the in-house doctor, another matador came out to finish his job. Fans cheered wildly and loudly, as if nothing had happened.

Some attendees decided to stay behind to see if there would be any word on Fortes, but it was the next day when we would find out through media reports that if he was in recovery and doing well.

“People die,” Macarron said. “It’s not often, but it happens.”

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