Bullfighting – Is it still relevant?

Bullfighting: A tradition that will forever and always be a symbol of Spanish culture…. or will it?

In the year 2010 the Spanish state of Cataluña (where the city of Barcelona is located) passed a law that prohibited future corridas de toros (bull flights – literally: bull-running). This new law will take affect in January of 2012.

But why, you might ask, would a state in Spain willingly vote to put an end to such an iconic part of their heritage? (It would be almost as if Illinois suddenly voted to outlaw baseball for crying out loud!)

Anti-bullfighting propaganda

Turns out, the reasons for being against corridas are many. In fact many people of Spain – not only those from Cataluña -find the tradition to be cruel and outdated.

However, those in favor of corridas view them as works of art – almost equivalent to viewing an act of theater or dance. In their eyes bullfights are beautiful, exciting, and entertaining.

¿Quién tiene la razón…? Who’s right….?

With this post I am going to examine both sides of the argument of Spanish bullfighting. Then hopefully after reading, you will be able to decide for yourself if you think the institution of los toros (bullfighting – literally: bulls) should be maintained or outlawed.

History of Bullfighting 

I am by no means an expert in the area of los toros. What I know comes from my own previous knowledge, personal experience, and this Wikipedia page. Therefore feel free to do a little internet research on your own if this topic is of interest to you!

Briefly summarized, rituals involving bulls have been part of Mediterranean tradition going back to ancient times. I remember learning in a university course about ancient fresco paintings found on the island of Crete depicting a ritual of people leaping over bulls.

Roman gladiators seemed to have maintained this idea of engaging with bulls in a public setting . In true “gladiator form” their aim was to kill them (as well as many other “beasts” including: alligators, lions, tigers, and barbaric foreigners) in front of the spectators of the Colosseum.

Mosaic of gladiators in combat . See the bull in the bottom panel?

Therefore, it is more or less agreed upon that the Spanish notion of bullfighting dates back to the days when Spain was a part of the Roman Empire. To make a long story short, a form of bullfighting has existed in Spain since its days as a Roman colony. Talk about an old tradition!

Una corrida

For those of you who have never seen a corrida (bullfighting match) in Spain (that means YOU Diego ;-)I’ll briefly summarize what happens during the actual modern event.

The corrida takes place in the plaza de toros – a traditional mini arena. They start in the afternoon around 5 or 6 o’clock. The event is divided into three parts.

An old photo of the Plaza de Toros in Madrid

First, the bull, the matador, and his team are presented to the public. The matador (which they call the torero in Spain) struts around the arena showing off his colorful costume while he and his entourage do a type of “meet-and-greet” with the bull.

Next comes a person titled the picador to encounter the bull (either on horseback or on foot). He enters the arena equipped with mini swords that he uses to lodge into the bull’s neck. I guess he does this to “weaken” the bull and “get him ready” to face his final show down with the matador.

Second, the tercio de banderillas (the trio of “banderiilas”) arrive on the scene. They attempt to weaken the bull even further by stabbing it the shoulder with “barbed sticks”. When they get a successful stab into the bull they leave the sharp stick inside of the animal (this is when you start to see the bull bleeding and struggling).

Finally, the star of the show – the torero – makes his final grand appearance. It’s during this stage that he preforms the typical interaction with the injured bull that is recognized in the US and around the world – using his cape to engage the bull and draw it near to him. His ultimate act is to climatically drive a dagger through the bull’s head in an attempt to kill it with one dramatic blow.

The process repeats various times depending on the number of matadors present at the particular bullfight.


As I stated before there are, in Spain, many fans of corridas. As summarized by this article many argue that bullfighting is still seen as an iconic part of Spanish culture.  Pro-bullfighters enjoy watching for the suspense of the show and the athletic beauty of the matador and his team – not because they enjoy watching an animal suffer. Not only are the actual events of the fight famous to Spain, but also the best toreros themselves are big parts of this countries’ popular culture. The top matadors and viewed as celebrities here and are often featured in the gossip TV shows and magazines.

The author of the article also points out that Spain is a society that kills animals for their meat and exploits them for labor. Due to this fact the author asks – what is the difference between the death of a bull in a corrida and the death of animal meant to be eaten or skinned to make leather?

Economically speaking too, bullfights attract a lot of foreign tourists (myself included). Bullfights were one of the few things I knew about Spain before visiting here in 2007. Therefore, you can make the argument that the corridas are important to this country because they attract visitors to Spain.


It’s probably obvious to see why, after reading a description of a Spanish bullfight, they are controversial. Yes, every bull that’s involved in a corrida ultimately suffers and dies. For many people this is seen as senseless act of animal cruelty. In this article written by someone with an anti-bullfighting bias, the author recounts his recent experience at a bullfight. He writes that the part of the event that he will always remember was the bull’s audible cry of pain and his realization that the spectators had paid money to witness it.

Finally, the author of this second article makes the counter-argument that yes, bullfighting is an ancient Spanish tradition – but so is public decapitation, slavery, and whipping naughty school children. He views bullfighting – an event in which a animal is publicly tortured and killed – as archaic and the previously mentioned institutions, and should therefore be prohibited.

Ray’s View

I’ve seen two bullfights here in Spain. It’s strange though, even though I’m against animal cruelty, I still paid money to go and watch them. For me – like any tourist looking to achieve an “authentic” experience – I was enticed by the idea of viewing a classic Spanish event (again, I equate it to a foreign tourist going to see a baseball game in the US).

Simply put, I guess I was just curious to see what all the fuss was about. Honestly too, during the corrida the matadors do draw it out and make it the show dramatic and suspenseful. Plus, there’s the added bonus of people watching. The Spaniards who like to watch bullfights go all out and typically dress up for this event. (Maybe for them it’s like what horse racing is to English people??) Anyways, as an outsider witnessing the event I was left with emotions of intrigue, repulsion, and a little anger. Perhaps its ability to arouse so many emotions is part of the bullfighting’s appeal.

The spectators of a bullfight - dressed in clothes much fancier than what I would wear to a baseball game!

That being said, I do think that it’s an out-dated tradition. I believe that more than likely, more states will “follow suit” like Cataluña and eventually outlaw it. My prediction is that within the next 50 years bullfight will have become a thing of the past in the history of this modern European nation.

Readers: now that you’re a bullfighting expert – Do you think it should be outlawed?

Also, would you pay to see a bullfight if you ever visited Spain?

I would love to hear some American opinions on this topic!


7 thoughts on “Bullfighting – Is it still relevant?

  1. Okay, take in mind that you’re receiving this from someone who can’t even stand to see a fish caught on a hook lol, however, I do think think that what you’ve described Rachel is extrememly barbaric. If we are killing an animal to survive (ie being attacked) or to eat, then let’s cause the animal as little pain as possible while ending it’s life. To torture an animal before killing it seems so cruel and senseless.

    Would I have attended a bull fight in Spain before I read your description? Yes, possibly but certainly not now.

    Here’s the part I question however. Will outlawing this “entertainment” erradicate it? I’m not so sure. TN was big into cock fighting in it’s past and of course, it eventually became outlawed. However, I can tell you that this “sport” is still alive and taking place in parts of TN. I’m sure it’s prevalence is much less, but it is still around. People go to jail for it but it has not eliminated the fights. Also, look at that football star who was breeding dogs for dog fights. Who would think that something like this would be going on – but it was.

    So, I guess when it comes down to it, I’d say that it should only be made illegal if the majority of people in Spain view it as something that should be eliminated. If not and the citizens are not buying into it, their government might be just sweeping the problem under the rug.

    You’ll have to keep us updated on what response this receives and how it’s handled in the future – very interesting.

    • Yes, I think the fights are becoming more and more unpopular (especially among young people – which is why I think in the next few generations more and more states will outlaw them). Unlike the cock and dog fights that you mentioned, I think making them illegal would be affective in putting an end to the bullfights – since the bull always dies in the end there is no betting at the event. Also because iit’s viewed as a type of “art form” it attracts all types of people including those from the “upper class”. Therefore it’s not some hidden event – actually the are organized by the cities/villages usually in the celebration of some type of holiday. Interesting comments!! Thanks!

  2. After reading all of your other blogs about Spanish culture and how it differs from that of the US, I can neither condemn nor condone Spain’s justifications for bullfighting.

    In the US, we bait and slaughter forest creatures for sport with our legalized guns and weapons.

    I know that might be comparing apples to oranges.

    Then again, I never could convert centigrade to Fahrenheit.

    • Good point! I guess we do kill animals for sport in the us too. I guess the ethical question about bullfights is that people are paying money to watch something die for their entertainment. Is that different than some guys heading out to hunt? Since bulls are livestock I suppose eventually they would be killed anyway – I think the delema is the fact that their slaughtering them purely for the enjoyment of others….. It’s a tough topic!

  3. I traveled to Madrid with a school group when I was 16 years old. (A long time ago!) While we there we attended a bullfight and I remember thinking that it was cruel treatment of the bull. I could see if the matador fought the bull without it being weakened first… that would be courageous on the part of the matador. As it was… it seemed like a big show and very unfair for the bull. I cheered for the bull… and I got some looks, too, before I was told that it was not polite to cheer for the bull… ha! Have you ever seen the movie, “Running of the Squirrels”? It is a spoof on the running of the bulls through the streets before the fight… very funny… especially when the squirrel jumps on their heads!

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