The "bull world" is not just about bullfights. There is a whole range of traditions and customs we would like to introduce tourists to, a world inhabited by bullfighters, stockbreeders, bullfighting critics and enthusiasts.
What is a bullfight?
First-time spectators are bound to enjoy their experience at a bullring simply for the impressiveness of the show. However, if you feel you would like to understand a bit more about this tradition then you need to familiarise yourself with the bullfighting code, for these fights abide by a very strict set of rules. There are three matadors each afternoon, starting with the most experienced, and each of them fights two bulls.
The bullfight begins with the paseíllo, during which the bullfighters and their cuadrillas - or squads - parade towards the Chair of the bullring to request the keys to the toriles. In the first suerte or part of the bullfight, called the tercio de varas, the matador receives the bull with his capote and then the picadors on horse-back use their puya to stab the bull in the morrillo and prevent it from attacking with its horns. In the second suerte, the banderilleros stab the bull with their rehiletes. In the last part, the tercio de la muerte, the bullfighter asks the Chair for permission to kill the animal, takes off his hat and dedicates the kill. Finally, he uses the muleta to fight the bull and then kills it with the estoque, with a minimum of three warnings from the Chair of the bullring.
During the bullfight, a music band plays pasodobles composed specifically for these events, such as the famous Suspiros de España or España Cañí. One of the peculiarities of bullfights in Las Ventas is the fact that the audience remains silent during the third part to pay tribute to Domingo Ortega's memorable bullfight in 1939, when the band forgot to play.
Bullfighters wear trajes de luces, colourful silk costumes with gold and silver embroidery. In Madrid, there are several tailors, from Fermín, who modernised bullfighters' costumes in the 70s, creating designs that streamlined the matadors' figures and were much more comfortable and stretchable, to Justo Algaba, which has a virtual store selling items for bullfighters.
Stockbreeders started to cross their bulls in the 18th century hoping to create a braver breed of animals, and that is how they eventually produced the toro de lidia. According to some biologists, they are direct descendants of the European uru, represented in the cave paintings in Altamira.
Enthusiasts say bullfighting is the only democratic spectacle, since members of the audience wave white handkerchiefs to pressure the Chair into awarding the bullfighter for his feat. When the bullfighter receives one ear, it means the audience is satisfied, when he gets two, it is very satisfied, and if he is awarded the two ears and the tail, then the feat has been a success. When he is carried out of the bullring on the shoulders of his cuadrilla, it means the bullfight has made history. Many bullfighters are considered legends. Juan Belmonte (1892-1962), Manolete (1917-1947), Antonio Bienvenida (1922-1975), Antonio Ordoñez (1932-1998) and Curro Romero (1933-) are genuine icons who have had poems, songs, novels and films written about them. Contemporary bullfighters include José Tomás, whom critics define as the renovator of modern bullfighting, and Cayetano Rivera Ordóñez, member of a legendary bullfighting dynasty who wears costumes designed specifically for him by Giorgio Armani.
Bullfighting has been depicted by Goya in his tapestries, Picasso in his prints, Lorca in his poems and Almodóvar in his films. Some people find it hard to conceive Spain's culture without bullfighting, a spectacle that has been celebrated in Spain since times immemorial and that is part of the country's idiosyncrasy. Nobel prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway wrote in his novel Death in the Afternoon (1941) that "a normal bullfight is a tragedy, not a sport".
As soon as spring rolls around, the season begins and newspapers devote a special section to bullfighting. From April 30 to May 1, the Miniferia de la Comunidad is a taster for the San Isidro fair, which begins in early May and turns Las Ventas into the most important bullring in the world. Bullfighters, in fact, fear tendido seven at this bullring, since experts say the audience here is extremely demanding. From then on, there are bullfights every Sunday until September. The season ends with the Feria de Otoño (Autumn Fair) in mid-October. The covered Vistalegre Bullring in Carabanchel, however, now stages bullfights all year round, even in winter, regardless of the weather.
Las Ventas was inaugurated in 1931. Since then, bullfighters have dreamt of leaving the bullring through the main door, carried on the shoulders of one of the members of their cuadrilla. Built in a Neo-Mudejar style, it can seat up to 23,798 spectators and is home to the Madrid Museum of Bullfighting, which displays interesting artworks and objects related to this tradition.
Bullfighters used to open a tavern when they retired in which they would display all their memorabilia. As well as photos, banderillas and capotes on the walls, the menus in these bars and restaurants usually included "oxtail" served as a snack or a meal. You will find many of these taverns in Las Ventas neighbourhood.