Updated: February 9, 2023Published: January 27, 2023
Whether or not we are bullfighting fans, bullfighting is part of the historical and cultural heritage of the Spanish people. It is a sign of the identity of the Spanish culture, which is very well-known worldwide.
Bullfighting is linked to our history; it has no ideology and belongs to the people. It has its origin in Spain but has a universal projection. Like any art, no one is obliged to support it; everyone is free to choose.
In this post, we have gathered the most interesting and cultural aspects of bullfighting. Our goal is to learn more in-depth about bullfighting in Spain in case you decide to attend one or just want to browse.
Are you ready to discover what the second most famous spectacle (only after soccer) in Spain is? Then keep scrolling down!
1. Bullfighting has its origin in Spain
Bullfighting is known as the “art of fighting bulls,” both on foot and horseback. This practice dates back to the Bronze Age when only royalty was worthy of demonstrating their bravery by facing a bull.
2. Bullfighting is part of the historical and cultural heritage of the Spanish people
Bullfighting is seen worldwide as a sign of identity in Spanish culture.
It has been legally declared that Bullfighting (the set of artistic and productive activities, including the breeding and selection of the fighting bull, which converges in the modern bullfight) is a relevant expression of the traditional culture of the Spanish people and is part of our Immaterial Cultural Heritage.
3. Bullfighting is not only celebrated in Spain
Besides being a cultural tradition in Spain, bullfighting is also celebrated in Portugal, some places in southern France, and some Latin American countries.
4. The beginning of a bullfight is known as the “paseíllo”
The “cuadrillas” and all the people working in the ring parade from the cuadrillas door to the presiding box in exact order. They pay their respects to the Presidency, observe a minute of silence, and salute the respectable audience.
5. The bullfighter is also known as “diestro” or “espada”
The bullfighter is responsible for dealing with the bull and putting it to death.
6. In a bullfight, there can be up to 11 participants
Different professionals participate in a bullfight on foot, including bullfighters and subalterns. Although it is necessary to distinguish between those who fight and those whose job is to support the bullfighters.
On the one hand, there are the “toreros,” among which the matadors or “bullfighters,” the picadors, and the banderilleros stand out.
On the other hand, the “non-bullfighters” are the President of the bullring, the “alguacilillos”, the “mozos de espadas”, the assistants of the “mozos”, the “monosabios”, the “mulilleros”, the “areneros” and the personnel of the bullring.
If you want to know the detailed description of the main participants and their different functions, click on the following link:
7. Bullfighters have to dress according to the rules set by tradition
All bullfighters wear the famous “traje de luces.” Its name refers to the reflections produced by the sequins that cover it.
The “traje de luces” is an elaborate uniform full of color with incredible embroidery. It is made of silk and covered in gold for the bullfighters and silver for the subalterns. It usually weighs between 4 and 5 kilos on average.
The dress of a bullfighter is composed of the following elements:
A Shirt: it is white in color and adorned with “chorreras.”
The “corbatín”: very thin ribbon knotted as a tie, black or the sash color.
The “chaquetilla”: it is a rigid and short jacket with long sleeves decorated with “alamares” and embroideries in gold, silver, and silk.
The “taleguilla”: refers to the trousers, which are high-waisted and reach below the knees. It has straps for better support and is very tight to prevent snags. It is adjusted at the bottom with cords that have tassels or “machos.”
A Vest (“chaleco” in Spanish): a sleeveless garment that covers from the waist up and is generally worn over a shirt or other garment.
A Sash (“fajín” in Spanish): a strip of cloth worn around the waist.
Stockings (“medias” in Spanish): two overlapping stockings are used. The ones that go inside are made of cotton and are white. The ones placed on top are pink and made of silk.
Slippers (“zapatillas” in Spanish): they are flat, black, and adorned with a bow.
The “montera”: is a black hat. It looks like a wig and must fit perfectly to the matador’s head.
Wearing the “montera” is part of the protocol. You will see the bullfighter wearing it during the “paseíllo,” the “tercio de varas,” and the “tercio de banderillas” (i.e., while using the cape).
As soon as the bullfighter starts to use the “muleta” in the “tercio de muerte,” he will take it in his hand and wave it towards the audience or the president. Afterward, he will throw it to the center of the ring, which will remain until the end of the bullfight. But bullfighters are extremely superstitious!! If the “montera” falls backward, it means bad luck! That’s why there are many who bend down to place it in the right way.
The ponytail (“coleta” in Spanish): helps to hold the “montera.” Although nowadays, bullfighters use a hairpiece known as a “castañeta,” in the past, they used to wear a ponytail that they would cut off at the time of their retirement.
The cape (“capote” in Spanish"): a piece of fabric made of synthetic materials, cut and shaped like a cape and brightly colored, used by the bullfighter to fight with the bull. The part offered to the bull is almost always fuchsia and the inner part is yellow.
8. Spain has some of the best bullfighters in the world
Among them are Enrique Ponce, José María Manzanares, Juan Belmonte, El Litri, José Tomás, Manolete, Morante de la Puebla, El Cordobés and Fran Riviera.
If you want to know everything about these icons of the bullfighting world, click on the following link:
The stage of a bullring is made up of different elements, each of which is given a specific name. If you decide to attend some time, it would be nice if you could know the names of each of them and be able to identify them.
Among these elements are the following:
The Ring - “Ruedo”
The Barrier - “Barrera”
The service areas: Outside the bullring, the bullrings have working areas where the bullfights are prepared.
- The “Corrales”: destined for the bulls to stay before their fight.
The“Chiqueros”: are the places destined for the isolation of each bull before their exit to the bullring.
The “Patio de Arrastre”: receives the muleteers that take the bulls to the “Desolladero.”
The “Patio de Cuadrillas”: houses the picadors’ horses.
The audience seating
The barrier: just after the alley.
The“contrabarrera”: is located immediately after. It is the separation of the barrier and the bullring.
Depending on the size of the bullring, there can be high and low seating, with a small price difference depending on the row in which each one is located. The seats are always numbered. Further up and covered, there are the bleachers. The “andanadas,” are also covered, where the price for being higher is cheaper. Evidently, the difference between sun and shade includes economic differences in the entrance.
The doors: At least four doors lead to the bullring.
- “La Puerta Grande”: is the main one, through which the prize-winning bullfighters go out on their shoulders.
- “La Puerta de Toriles”: is the one through which the bull goes out to the bullring.
- “La Puerta de Arrastre”: is the one through which the mules take the bull out of the bullring.
- “La Puerta de Cuadrillas”: from where the paseíllo starts and the picadors come out in their tercio.
The “callejón”: it refers to the corridor between the barrier and the supporting wall of the bullfighting ring. It is not less than 1.50 nor more than 2.50 meters wide.
It is also essential to know that the seats can be in the sun or shadow.
The squares are oriented towards the East according to an axis whose head is the presidential box. This means early afternoon, the half corresponding to the box is in the shade and the opposite half in the sun.
Near it is the royal box or box of honor, occupied by the authorities. Opposite, the clock of the clarinet and timpani players, in charge of the tolls that separate the tercios, and in view of the presidency, the band of music.
If you want to go into more detail on some of the elements, click on the following link:
We know when one “tercio” ends, and another begins with the sound of a bugle. A high-pitched brass wind instrument very typical in bullfighting.
11. In addition to the “tercios,” a bullfight is composed of two “faenas”
The “faena de capote”: the bullfighter wears the “montera.”
The “faena de muleta”: the bullfighter takes off the “montera,” offers it to the bull, and throws it into the ring, where it remains until the end.
12. The fight of each bull or “faena” usually lasts about 20 minutes
The “faena” refers to the bullfighter’s time with the bull. It’s the time from when the bull comes out of the ring until it dies in the bullring and is taken away.
Once the bullfight has started, you can only enter the bullring during the breaks between bulls. So if you arrive late, you will have to wait 20 minutes for the bull to finish before entering the bullring.
13. The “faena de muleta” has a maximum time of ten minutes
The “faena de muleta” refers to the last part of the bullfight when the bull and the bullfighter are alone in the ring.
After the banderillas, the matador takes the “muleta” (also called “flannel” or “pañosa”), the red cloth with which the bullfighter tempers and channels the bull’s charge.
The last third of the bullfight, the “tercio de muerte” (third of death), is carried out with the “muleta.” This is the moment when the bullfighter shows off his skills and those of the bull.
The “faena de muleta” has a maximum time of 10 minutes (established in the regulations). After this interval, if the matador has not killed the bull, the first warning is given, with the white handkerchief from the presidency and the bugle sound.
14. The President is the highest authority in a bullring
The President is the leading authority in the bullring to interpret and demand the fulfillment of the Regulations. He is the “director” of the bullfight; he marks the times, sanctions, and rewards.
This role is usually performed by the city’s Government Delegate or a prominent member of the police command. It is not an easy job; they often suffer criticism and protests from the audience.
15. The President has several colored handkerchiefs to give orders during the bullfight
The President has several handkerchiefs of different colors with which he gives orders and communicates with the bullring and the alley so that these orders are heeded.
The white handkerchief: is used to order the start of the bullfight, the start of each bull, the changes of the “suertes,” the warnings, and the awarding of trophies.
The green handkerchief: is used to return the bull to the pens.
The red handkerchief: is used to order black banderillas.
The blue handkerchief: used to authorize the bull’s return to the bullring and finally.
The orange handkerchief: to announce the pardon of the bull.
16. There are three types of trophies in a bullfight
The first trophy: consists of an ear. It is awarded by the public as long as there is a majority, thus demonstrating popular sovereignty. As the person in charge of the bullfight, the President awards the ear.
The second trophy: consists of two ears. This trophy is awarded by the President at his discretion. A matador gets it if he has performed a good “Faena de Capote,” a good “Faena de Muleta,” and killed the bull with a single thrust.
The top trophy: consists of two ears and the tail. This is obtained when the bullfight is perfect. It is awarded at the discretion of the President.
17. In a bullfight, the bull’s life can be spared
Recently the Presidents of the bullfighting ring have been given the power to spare the life of a bull that they consider exceptional, called a pardon.
The pardon (“indulto” in Spanish) of a brave bull is granted when a bull has proven to be very brave during the whole fight. Then the oxen arrive at the bullring and take the bull away. This bull goes to the stud farm as a stallion.
18. The approximate time of a bullfight is two hours
In a typical bullfight, six bulls are fought. So a regular bullfight usually lasts an hour and a half to two hours.
However, there can be a difference in time because sometimes the bull can be injured and has to be replaced by another bull, called “sobrero.”
In this case, the bullfight could last up to two and a half hours or more, depending on the number of “sobreros” (extra bulls) needed.
19. The oldest bullring in the world is in Spain
The bullring of “El Castañar” is the oldest in the world since the first known bullfight dates back to 1711. It is located in Béjar, and in addition to hosting bullfights, cultural shows are also held inside the bullring.
Béjar is a beautiful little town that is definitely worth a visit. It is also one of the stops I recommend making along the spectacular route that crosses Spain from south to north, known as the Via de la Plata.
Be sure to check out our post about this incredible route!
The largest bullring is in Mexico City. This bullring has a capacity of 41,000 people (compared to 24,000 spectators at Las Ventas in Madrid, Spain).
Officially it is known as “Plaza de Toros Mexico.” However, fans know it as “Plaza de Toros Monumental de Ciudad de Mexico” or “La Monumental.”
21. Spain’s most prestigious bullrings are located in Madrid and Andalusia
Bullrings have been a great symbol of Spain, being an essential part of the country’s history.
These are the three most prestigious bullrings in Spain:
Las Ventas bullring, Madrid: Las Ventas bullring is the incomparable capital of bullfighting as it is the most important bullring in Spain.
The building was designed by architect Espeliú and inaugurated in 1931, with impressive red brick and neo-Mudejar ceramic tiles.
Las Ventas has a capacity for more than 23,000 people, being the bullring with the largest bullring in Spain. It fills capacity numerous times, especially during the San Isidro celebration, which is known worldwide.
La Maestranza bullring, Seville: This bullring dates from the 18th century and has a capacity of approximately 13,000 people. It is popularly known as the Cathedral of Bullfighting.
La Maestranza celebrates its most important bullfights during the April Fair.
Bullring of Ronda: it was in this bullring that Pedro Romero invented modern bullfighting in the 18th century.
Go in September to the Feria Goyesca, so you can see the matadors wearing costumes of the time of the famous painter Francisco Goya.
22. The flag of Spain must fly during the entire celebration
The Spanish flag must fly in the bullring for the entire bullfight duration.
23. Bullfighting is not only for men; there are also women bullfighters
Bullfighting has always been associated with masculinity. Since bullfighting began, the role of women in this world has always been highly criticized, and it has been really difficult for them to make a place for themselves.
The first signs of a female bullfighter appeared in the 17th century, on June 25, 1654, in a letter to the Council of Castile.
María de los Ángeles Hernández Gómez, known as Ángela, was a renowned Spanish bullfighter (“torera”). She was the first woman to obtain the bullfighter card in Spain.
24. There are 6 different types of bullfighting in Spain
There are 6 types of bullfighting: bullfights, “novilladas,” “becerradas,” “rejoneos” or “corridas de rejones,” “capeas” and “bombero toreros” or “toreros cómicos.”
If you want to go into more detail on each of them, just click on the following link:
25. Bullfighting fans gather in bars to watch the latest bullfights
There are specific bars that revolve around bullfighting. In these places, bullfighting fans gather to watch the latest bullfights and even watch reruns of crucial moments or classic bullfights.
These bars are usually decorated with very characteristic and representative elements such as bullheads, pictures of famous bullfights, and famous bullfighters with their signatures and dedications. They are the perfect place to learn more about this practice, as you will be surrounded by authentic experts.
26. Bullfighting in Spain is considered an art
The movements performed by the bullfighter with the cape and the bull’s charge are considered an art form.
An emotional connection is generated between the spectacle and the audience.
27. Spain has 10 very famous bullfighting festivals
In Spain, several festivities are held yearly in which the bull is the main protagonist.
In 2021, 824 bullfighting festivities were held, representing an increase of 53.8% compared to 2020 and a decrease of 42.2% compared to 2019.
Toro de la Vega
Toro de la Vega
Bous a la mar
Bull of Coria
Bulls of Paiporta
Carnival of the bull
Fiesta del toro enmaromado
Bull adorned in Beas de Segura
San Fermín is undoubtedly the most popular bullfighting festival in Spain and best known internationally.
If you want to know all the details about this festival and 12 others not to be missed, take a look at this article:
29. Spain’s most popular bull breed is the “lidia”
It is known as “ganado bravo” or “ganado de casta” and was created from the native cattle found in the Iberian Peninsula between the XVI and XVIII centuries.
The “lidia” breed arose from crosses between other foundational species such as the Morucha Castellana, Jijona-Toros de la Tierra, Cabrera, Gallardo, Vistahermosa, and Vazqueña. This breed is selected exclusively for bullfighting shows.
According to existing genetic studies, this breed has more extraordinary genetic richness than most European cattle breeds.
The “lidia” breed is usually found in the basins of Spanish rivers such as the Duero, Ebro, Tajo, Guadiana, and Guadalquivir. They predominate in the grassy areas of the plateau of Andalusia and Extremadura.
The “lidia” fighting bulls are usually black, although there are color variations in the different specimens.
They are characterized by their defensive and temperamental instincts, which are synthesized in the so-called “bravura.” They have large forward horns and a powerful locomotor apparatus. Their head is medium-sized compared to their body, their ears have abundant hair, and their eyes are large and expressive.
30. When the bullfighter makes excellent passes with the bull and the cape, the public shouts, “OLÉ!”
The objective of bullfighting is to chain passes and make them correctly. When the bullfighter succeeds, the audience shouts, “OLÉ!”
This Spanish interjection is used colloquially to cheer and applaud someone’s action. It is a very used and well-known word in flamenco and bullfighting.
In fact, we have a two posts dedicated to flamenco that you can’t miss!
31. In Spain there are about 50 bullfighting schools
In these schools the students and many of them future bullfighters practice with each other and then with cows. They also learn the history of this unique event and values such as effort, respect and patience.
Bullfighting is a delicate subject that generates a lot of controversies since not everyone agrees that it should continue to be performed and allowed.
In fact, many criticisms have arisen from animal rights defenders due to the suffering the bull is subjected to.
It is a subject that should be treated with respect and about which it is necessary to be well-informed so that everyone can draw their own conclusions.
Inigo Navarro is a seasoned travel writer with a deep understanding of Spain's cities, culture, people and language. Born and raised in Spain, he has spent years exploring the country and is currently one of the most-read Travel Bloggers about Spain. Inigo is also an experienced digital marketer, a father to 4 beautiful children and a huge Real Madrid Fan. ¡Hala Madrid!