This past Sunday I went with several friends to my first bullfight or corrida del toros here in Sevilla at the Plaza del Toros de la Real Maestranza – reportedly the most important place to fight in Spain. The venue itself is stunning, and was constructed in the 17th – 18th century. It is oval shaped, as opposed to the traditional circle, which I’m told gives the matador a slight advantage when running from the bull. When my parents visited in March, we toured the museum and I was eager to go back and see it full of people and pageantry.
What we saw was a novice bullfight, or a Novillada con Picadores. There were three matadors: Víctor Barrio, David Galván and Vanesa Montoya. Our first surprise was their youth. Barrio is 24 years old – also the tallest and most experienced with 26 novilladas and 56 orejas* (ears) to his name. Galván is the youngest at a fresh faced 19 years old, with 13 novilladas and 20 orejas of his own. Montoya is the oldest and indeed a female, and she is my age (27) – this was her debut con caballos (with horses).
The fact there was a female matador was another surprise. I was curious enough to do some searching online about this phenomenon and was pleasantly surprised. NPR did an interview in March with matadora Lupita Lopez who reportedly joins the ranks of merely four professional female fighters. Likewise, LIFE magazine did a photo series called Female Matadors: A Fierce Beauty that does a great job of showcasing these strong women bucking a machismo trend.
Here are some of the basics of the fight we witnessed. There were 6 bulls, ranging in weight from 449 kg to 496 kg. That’s between 989 pounds and a whopping 1,093 pounds. Each matador fights two bulls. The drama begins with the pomp and circumstance of the Real Maestranza, where all of the fighters enter the bullring with their fighting companions. These companions include picadores (fighters on horseback who use a lance to weaken the bull), capeadores (fighters on foot who work with the capes to distract the bull) and banderilleros (fighters on foot who use two short sticks to stab the bull at the base of the neck).
The bull is let out of the gate across the arena from the fighters. The capeadores distract the bull and it takes several passes around the ring. The matador also takes a few passes with the bull to get the feel of it, and judge its actions. Picadores enter on heavily protected and blindfolded horses, with lances in hand. They provoke the bull to charge the horse, and use a lance to stab the bull – twice. Once the horsemen leave, banderilleros enter the ring with wooden sticks, or barbed darts. They provoke the bull and sidestep at the last minute, stabbing the bull with two darts each – this happens three times.
Finally with the last stage called the suerte, the matador begins to work with the bull. First s/he raises his hat to dedicate the kill to the person presiding over the fight, a person in the crowd or the crowd at large. We got to see one of the fighters throw his hat in disgust, and one of our fellow spectators informed us that if the bull is not a good one, the matador will refuse to dedicate it because it has not been a good fight. Some say that if the matador’s hat falls a certain way, it indicates bad luck – bullfighters are reportedly very superstitious. Wouldn’t you be?
Each fighter has a slightly different stance and posture, although each exuded confidence and bravado. The tallest fighter, Barrio, introduced us to a successful paso where the fighter taunts the bull with the infamous red cape, and succeeds in standing still while the bull passes incredibly close to his / her body. When this is executed well, the crowd shouts “Olé!” Other than these shouts, the majority of the fight is conducted in silence – a code of conduct is enforced and although the crowd is full of both tourists and Spaniards, the fight is taken seriously by all.
Numerous pasos take place before the matador reaches for his sword. He faces the bull and attempts to make a clean stab into the back of the neck – into the vertebrae and down into the heart. Unfortunately the female fighter had some trouble with this and we had to watch several uncomfortable minutes at the end of both of her fights. The crowd became restless whether from disgust or disappointment and the old men gestured to each other in frustration yelling “con fuerza hija” (with force, girl). The matador’s companions will come forward to deliver the death blow after the bull has fallen, and the horses arrive to give the bull a circle around the ring before pulling it outside.
The bullfight was fascinating and at times, gruesome or terrifying. I was not a fan of how the horses were nearly flipped by these 1,000 pound bulls, although they appear to be well protected. Equally, I wasn’t ready for the fierceness of the bulls – several pawed the ground before a charge and were faster than I could have imagined. Aside from the botched death blow by the female matador, we saw the youngest matador thrown high into the air by the bull. Being so small, he fit directly between the bull’s horns and at one point the bull caught his hip with a horn and sent him cartwheeling into the air. He somehow bounced right up off the ground and continued to fight both valiantly and successfully.
Yes I know bullfights are cruel for the bull, but it is something deeply rooted in Spanish tradition and history. Seeing a matador face down a 1,000 lb animal with his suit (traje de luces) sparkling in the late afternoon sun is something special. Watching these young Spaniards take control of a bull while remaining composed and confident is incredible. While I may not see another fight any time soon, I am very glad I took the chance to see one here in Sevilla.
Y aqui algunos fotos … olé!
*Orejas are awarded when a matador fights extraordinarily well and the official presiding over the fight offers him the ear of the bull. Where do they put these things – on the wall? Gross.