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Bullfighting: Fighting for its future

Bullfights and Flamenco. It’s hard to imagine Spain without either of its richest cultural activities. While one recently two-stepped its way to recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage cultural treasure, bullfighting finds itself in the ring against a generational divide, politics and a struggling economy, attempting to defend its history and tradition.


Bullfighting has been banned in Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia, but travel south and you find that the tradition and support for bullfighting grows. Seville is no exception. And those involved in bullfighting, an event that finds its origins in the 18th century, recognize the battle they face. Nonetheless, they remain confident that the tradition will continue to thrive in the country’s thousands of bullrings.

A bull ring in Andalusia

Fighting for a full house: not so easy these days. Photo: Mait Juriado.

“In Andalusia, no. Short term, medium term and long term, no,” says bullfighting journalist Álvaro R. del Moral regarding the possible prohibition of bullfights in Southern Spain. “Here things are very clear.”

If Del Moral’s prediction is to prove accurate, interest must remain high among one crucial demographic group:  Spain’s youth. Aula Taurina, an organization run by high school teachers that promotes bullfighting to Seville’s younger crowd, passes along bullfighting passion from one generation to the next.

“From the beginning, the point of Aula Taurina was to bring bullfighters to the high schools and to bring the students to the countryside, so they saw bullfighters fighting in the countryside,” says Miguel Serrano, high school teacher and Aula Taurina chairman.

The organization was founded in 1986 as the first of its kind in Spain. Since then, La Real Maestranza de Cabellería de Sevilla, the historical society that owns Seville’s bullfighting ring, has sponsored Aula Taurina, funding its activities throughout the province. In 1994, the same group of teachers, sponsored again by La Real Maestranza, reopened Seville’s Bullfighting School, which had been closed since the turn of the century.

Serrano’s Aula Taurina offers students a fall course entitled, “The Basic Principles of the Bullfight.” During the spring, a handful of world-reknowned bullfighters lecture students. To culminate the “school year,” the organization holds a prize ceremony during Seville’s annual fair. Among the prizes: free season tickets awarded to students.

But not everyone can enjoy a bullfight for free, and Serrano has noticed over the years that the stadium doesn’t fill to capacity like it once did.

“In Seville, there are 800,000 citizens. It is very difficult for the bullfighting ring to fill every time with 10,000 spectators,” he says. “From the 800,000, 10,000 don’t come, nor 6,000, so it’s a sign that the amount of bullfighting fans isn’t as numerous.”

In training at Seville's bullfighting school. Photo: Carlos Cabrera.

Serrano attributes this drop in attendance to a struggling economy and an increase in alternative forms of entertainment: “It has to do more with the habits of the kids,” he says. “Because today kids have a range, they have a lot of possibilities for fun. So there are a lot who stay home on the internet, others go to the movies, others play sports, others like to read.

“One of those possibilities is the bullfighting world. Today, the proportion is much less than before.”

As for the economy, Spain faces the highest unemployment rate in the European Union. Bullrings in bigger cities, like Seville, have had fewer problems, but in smaller towns with less significant fights, the bullfighting world is bleeding. Serrano says many local governments provide funds to organize bullfights or festivities, but because of the recession, in many cases this aid hasn’t arrived – leaving bullfighting not as a victim to ethics, but economics.

“If there is demand, there is supply,” Serrano says. “If the public stops attending bullfights, the bullfighters aren’t going to fight because they aren’t going to make money. The ranchers aren’t going to own bulls because they won’t make money, either.”

This is the second article in the three-part series on bullfighting in Spain, published every Monday by Iberosphere. The first is here.

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Published: Apr 4 2011
Category: Culture
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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9 Comments for “Bullfighting: Fighting for its future”

  1. Anyone who pays to watch cruelty being inflicted on a animal is uncivilized and lacks sensitivity. In my country Spaniards have long been seen as cruel people and I believe bullfighting is responsible for that image.

  2. sigo pensando que los responsables del lanzamiento de las bombas atómicas no deberian opinar respecto a lo que es crueldad

    • Michel Michaeljohn

      @ Kari: Lame; totally irrelevant “excuse” for the “defense” of GODLESS/SATANIC “barbarism” against “helpless; innocent” members of God’s Animal Kingdom for “perverted entertainment.”

  3. It comes to my mind the fact that not all 47 million spaniards might enjoy bullfighting.
    I believe this cruel image you talk about in quite unfair, mostly because it is a main tourist attraction making people from many countries go to enjoy this brutal show.
    who is worst?
    Also, Spain is one of the countries with more cultural heritage recognized as patrimony of humanity by UNESCO, they might have more to see than just bulls and paella.
    I encourage you to check them out, release yourself from this blind prejudjement, and maybe read a book about the influences of the iberian peninsula in your own country, you might get surprised.

  4. Michel Michaeljohn

    Bullfighting: It’s not ART; it’s not CULTURE;its not SPORT; it is TORTURE (ask the MAJORITY of the people in the bullfighting countries of Spain; Portugal; France; Mexico; Colombia; Ecuador; Guatemala; Peru and Venezuela that are working on, and passing BANS and ABOLITION of bullfights).

    Bullfighting: The most indefensible type of animal abuse.

    Bullfighting is not a fight at all, but a systematic torture-killing that pits a gang of armed thugs wielding razor-sharp barbed spikes, spears, swords and daggers (these weapons are designed to inflict intense pain and cause massive blood loss to weaken the animal) against a lone, terrified; confused; fatally disabled and wounded animal.

    It’s a sickening economic industry based on HORRIFYING victimization; sadistic abuse; extreme cruelty and mutilation and torture of bulls (and horses) during the cruel exhibitions of bullfights (which are barbaric “blood” fiestas): Close-up Horror of Bullfighting (Graphic)

    Handlers weaken and cripple the bull for days before the bullfight. They starve him; give him laxatives and deny him water, or they put massive doses of sulphates (epsom salts) in his water to induce severe diarrhea, intestinal pain and subsequent lack of coordination in the ring. He is beaten with heavy sandbags on his back and kidneys. He is wedged into a tiny corral and drugged to make him docile. Up to four inches of horn is hacked off with a saw down to the tender quick to interfere with his ability to navigate; the mutilated stump rounded off with a rasp and smeared with black grease; his hooves are burned with turpentine.

    They blind him with vaseline rubbed into his eyes and drug him; they stuff his ears so that he cannot hear; they stuff his nostrils so that he cannot breath. Just before he enters the ring he is harpooned/stabbed in the back with a steel “breeder’s mark.” In the ring, they drive razor-sharp lances and harpoons into his back and neck muscles so he can’t lift his head. By the time the matador appears, the bull is weak from blood loss and dizzy from being chased in circles.

    The horses used in bullfights are old and drugged. Wet newspaper is stuffed in their ears so that they will not hear the approaching bull and run away; their vocal cords are cut so the audience will not hear their cries. They wear long blankets to hide their entrails, which spill out when they are gored and disemboweled by the tortured; agonizing bull (who has been deceived into thinking that the horse is causing his pain, instead of the “wicked human” riding the horse).

    It’s no fun to see an innocent, crazed animal tortured before a screaming crowd of people, who should be hanging their heads in shame. Even if you leave after 15 to 20 minutes, the damage has been done – your money has gone to support this hellish, satanic business, which “decent people” are working to “end.”

    The continuation of bullfighting depends on government subsidies and to an even GREATER EXTENT, the “IGNORANT TOURIST” industry.

    Don’t be an accomplice to this savagery by supporting it with your “tourist dollars.”

    Please help these “suffering” animals – STAY AWAY FROM BULLFIGHTS; speak out against them with the TRUTH and DEMAND that they be ABOLISHED.

    Michel Michaeljohn (of Spanish-descent); California; United States.

  5. En España somos una gran mayoría de personas las que NO queremos que este espectáculo bárbaro cruel y salvaje siga adelante. Queremos la ABOLICIÓN de esta absurda y medieval forma de TORTURA y MUERTE. España es un estado moderno y debe entrar en Europa. El problema son los políticos y los fascistas que siguen actuando con impunidad. Dejar atrás estas prácticas CRIMINALES y DETESTABLES. La MUERTE no es CULTURA!!.
    In Spain we are a large majority of people that DO NOT want this show to cruel and savage barbarian proceed. We want the abolition of this absurd and medieval form of torture and death. Spain is a modern state and must enter Europe. The problem is politicians and fascists who continue to act with impunity. Leaving behind these criminal practices and detestable. DEATH IS NOT CULTURE!.

  6. I’m Spanish, and shames me deeply this horrible tradition’s own past, where humiliation, torture and kill in the most cruel and sadistic to the bulls, and where the horses also suffer serious mutilation, Spain is a human shame.

  7. verguenza nacional, fiesta salvaje y cruel donde las haya. españa no quiere esta salvajada, somos una inmesa mayoria que pensamos que esto es cruelda pura el maltrato a un animal inocente e indefenso.ABOLICIOMMMMMMMM

  8. Soy Andaluz, de Málaga y creo que el Flamenco es una expresión cultural merecedora de la distinción de la UNESCO… Pero en el caso de las corridas de toros, pienso todo lo contrario, ya que el acto de Torturar y Matar a un Animal infinitamente inferior, no creo que sea constructivo para el ser humano… Este maltrato y muerte esta sometido a un estricto reglamento taurino, por lo que es más un procedimiento que una expresión artística… Lo que en mi opinión fascina a los asistentes, no es el arte, sino que se dejan atrapar por su sed de Sangre y Muerte… No creo que un niño se deba enfrentar a la muerte tan pronto en una sociedad como la Española….

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