By Jeremy Patton
Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas is located in Madrid, Spain.
Las Ventas had a 25,000 seating capacity and was built in the early 20th century to replace Madrid’s smaller bullring. It was designed in the Moorish style and was easy on the eyes. That was where my admiration of the bullring and what went on there ended.
I lived in Segovia, Spain and travelled Europe during a study abroad program in 1998. One weekend, I bought a ticket for a bullfight on a whim. I had heard that bullfighting was the national pastime of Spain, and since I was studying there, I figured I should see the spectacle for myself.
I must have purchased the cheapest seat available, because I baked under the Iberian sun for most of the show. I was not aware that seats located in the shade were more costly.
The following account is my best recollection of the event:
The bull was released into the ring, no doubt having been agitated to increase its ferocity. The matador’s assistants ganged up on it. They played a dangerous game of tag, dodging and driving stakes into its body as it charged at them. Later, a picador on horseback jabbed it with a lance. I do not remember if the matador had made an appearance at that point.
This went on for maybe 20-30 minutes. The bull bled and became fatigued. Only then did the matador emerge alone with his cape and sword to challenge it. On numerous occasions, the matador tried to goad the bull into action, but its will had already been broken; it no longer wanted to fight. Eventually, it relented and its failed passes made it even more tired, allowing the matador to move in and finally put it out of its misery. The corpse was tied to a team of horses and drug out of the ring, leaving behind a trail of crimson in the dirt.
The highly ritualized performance inflicted prolonged suffering upon the animal. I was ashamed that I had paid to be a spectator.
I am a carnivore, so I do not object to the slaughter of animals for meat. I was deeply offended, however, by the blatant cruelty of the bullfights. If you need to kill an animal to feed yourself, fine, but get it overwith quickly. Do not torture them for sport.
Having never been exposed to bullfighting, I expected the matador to do all the dirty work. Instead, his henchmen butchered the poor animal before he entered the ring. For a sport with a reputation for manliness, those tactics seemed to miss the mark.
The rules of bullfighting vary throughout Spain, and the world. Some styles are bloodless, more akin to American rodeos. Vases and figurines from the Minoan civilization of Bronze Age Crete depict bullfighters somersaulting over the heads of charging bulls. I guess their version should be called “bull-leaping.”
Without a doubt, I attended my first and last bullfight in 1998. I hope that kinder hearts prevail in Spain and their barbaric version of bullfighting will become a thing of the past.
Added 7/21/17 – Updated 7/22/17