History of Bullfighting in Spain

The tradition of bullfighting may date back as far as 2000BC in some form, and is practised in many countries all over the world. Though bullfighting may happen all over the world, the home and heart of bullfighting is in Spain.

Spanish bullfighting has three stages: the tercio de varas, which is really two stages as the matador confronts the bull with his cape then steps back while his assistant, the picador, stabs the bull with a lance from horseback; the tercio de banderillas, in which the matador’s other assistants, the banderillos, stab the bull with brightly coloured barbed sticks; and the tercio de muerte, in which the matador uses his cloak and sword to lure and kill the bull.

Bullfighting was a popular event in ancient Rome, and underwent many transitions to become the spectacle we are aware of today. Initially a basic contest to confront bulls, the Moors who invaded Andalusia in the eighth century changed it into a ritual practiced on feast days. The bull was attacked by men on highly trained horses. These men were eventually assisted by men on foot, who would use their capes to herd the bull in the right direction.

As time went by, the men who aided the horsemen on foot by flashing their capes at the bulls became more popular. The danger evident in a man confronting an enraged bull with just a cape thrilled the crowd. The daring passes and close encounters the men made gave shape to the modern corrida, which is the structured bullfight practised today. Francisco Romero is generally credited as the first fighter to confront the bull on foot, around 1726. He also introduced the estoque, a sword, a muleta, and a small cape. These were used in the last fatal stage of the fight. The tradition solidified around this time and hasn’t changed much since.

There were once regional distinctions in styles of bullfighting, with five main regions – Andalusia, Aragon-Navarre, Alentejo, Camargue, and Aquitaine. These styles have spread out to become styles per country. Bullfighting is performed in various ways in many areas of the world, including Mexico, Portugal, Peru and Ecuador as well as Spain. There is a non-lethal method of bullfighting practised on Pemba, in Tanzania, and another in Basque-Navarre.

The tradition of bullfighting is constantly confronted with threats to ban it, and has been throughout history. In 1567 Pope Pius V issued a decree that forbade bullfighting, believing that the matadors voluntarily endangering their lives which also endangered their souls. This was overturned eight years later by his successor, Pope Gregory XIII, at the request of king Philip II. Bullfighting was banned at times during the 18th and 19th centuries, but reinstated when governments changed. Franco supported bullfighting as distinctly Spanish and it was hoped that the association with his regime would lead to a decrease in popularity of bullfighting, but this didn’t happen. Social-democratic Spanish governments have made some changes, prohibiting children under 14 from attending and limiting the broadcast of bullfights.

Spanish laws on cruelty to animals have led to the abolishment of most blood sports with the exception of bullfighting. Barcelona’s city council voted to get rid of bullfighting in 2004 but were unable to ban it. Some other Spanish towns have succeeded in banning the tradition. In 2007, state-run Spanish TV cancelled live coverage of bullfights. In October 2008 the state broadcaster TVE followed suit, although the station continued to screen a bullfighting magazine program.


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