Updated: February 7, 2023Published: January 19, 2023
One of the oldest mass spectacles in Spain and one of the oldest in the world, Bullfighting has a tremendous meaning and origin that goes back centuries.
Here’s Bullfighting explained for tourists, visitors, and curious people who want to experience Spain like a local or wish to understand this whole “bullfight” thing. I’m 100% sure you have been told several times to attend a bullfight in Spain.
This sport has a lot of relevance in Spanish culture, and it is often talked about while referring to common traditions and highlights to visit in our country. But what is it in the first place?
Well, catch it by yourself! After reading this article, you’ll be able to identify the main stages of a bullfight, its actors, and its purpose. Also, you’ll understand some jargon only used in this sport. So, it’s showtime!
Table of Contents▼▶
1. What is the Meaning of a Bullfight?
A bullfight is a spectacle in which several bulls are run or battled by a bullfighter on foot in an enclosed area built just for that purpose, called the bullring.
The Bullfight generally involves three matadors on foot assisted by their respective “cuadrillas” formed by three “banderilleros” or “peones” and two “picadores” on horseback.
Usually: twelve bullfighters on foot and six on horseback have to fight six bulls.
And, for it to be a bullfight, the bulls must be between four and six years old. They also have to pass some veterinary examination certifying their integrity and be slaughtered by experts who have taken the name of matadors, specialists in the sport.
Okay, wait a minute… This was supposed to be a 101 explanation. I believe there are some terms to clear out beforehand:
2. Who are the bullfight participants?
The Main participants of a Bullfight are:
The Bullfighter or “Matador,” also called “Torero”:
His job is to lead the Bull’s charge, lead the Bull with the came, and lead the Bull to the pike. Also, he has to carry out the Bullfight with the muleta (a red cloth with which the bullfighter tempers and channels the Bull’s charge). The Bullfighter also places the banderillas (which we’ll explained later) to end the Bull with the sword before the time ends.
The rejoneador is the Bullfighter or Matador of bulls on horseback. This Bullfight is based on placing on the Bull’s back ornaments of fabric and colors anchored to the animal’s skin with a blade.
The picador is in charge of preparing the Bull for the “tercio de muleta.” He is also responsible for Bullfighting on horseback in bullfights on foot.
The Bandarillero is in charge of fighting the Bull in the second third of the Bullfight. At this moment, he assumes the leading role of placing the banderillas. His mission is to place at least two pairs of banderillas at the top of the Bull’s withers.
Mozo de Espadas
The mozo is in charge of supporting the Matador during the Bullfight. From his position in the alley, he provides the Bullfighter with everything he may need: capes, muletas, montera, steel estoque, simulated estoque, and descabello. The “Mozo de Espadas” is also in charge of dressing the Bullfighter in his characteristic costume.
The “alguadillos” are the first members of the bullfighting procession to enter the bullring. They are in charge of executing the president’s orders, symbolically collecting the key to the bullring door, handing out the prizes to the bullfighters, and preceding the cuadrillas during the paseíllo.
He is in charge of helping and assisting the picador during the Bullfight with everything he might need. This includes mounting the horse, holding it in the suerte de varas, or helping the picador if the horse is knocked down by the Bull.
Arenero and mulilleros
The “arenero” is another young man, or “mozo,” who is in charge of keeping the arena of the bullring in perfect condition. They appear at the beginning and go away until after the Bull has fallen to smooth the sand and cover the horse’s headstands and the remains of blood that may be left behind.
Then we have Mulilleros. They carry the mules that drag the Bull’s body out of the arena.
3. Elements of a Bullring
Ruedo: This is where the Bullfighting takes place. It consists of a circle separated from the rest of “La Plaza de Toros” by a barrier. Its diameter shall not be more than 60 nor less than 35 meters of beaten earth.
Barrier: It is the protection that prevents the exit of the bulls from the bullring and protects the bullfighters and other people. Its height is 1.60 meters.
The burladeros: These are defenses for the bullfighters and access to the alley. There are usually three or four, and they are equidistant from each other. The Matador on duty is generally placed in the burladero farthest from the bullring door, while the peones are placed in other burladeros.
Service areas: Outside the bullring, the bullrings have working areas where the Bullfight is prepared.
Corrales: These are used for the stay of the bulls before the Bullfight.
Chiqueros: These are the places to isolate each one of the bulls 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 seats for the public: These are the barrier, just after the alley. The contrabarrera is located immediately after; it separates the barrier and the arena. They are always numbered.
The bleachers: These are further up and covered.
The andanadas: These seats are higher, so they are cheaper. Also covered.
There can be high and low seating. Although it depends on the size of the bullring. There’s a slight difference in price depending on the row in which each one is located.
Doors: At least four doors lead to the bullring.
The Puerta Grande: is the main gate through which the prize-winning diestros go out on their shoulders.
The Puerta de Toriles: is the one through which the Bull comes out to the bullring.
Puerta de Arrastre: is the one through which the bulls are taken out by the mulillas.
Puerta de Cuadrillas: where the paseíllo starts, and the picadors come out in their tercio.
White circles: They divide the bullfighting areas into three: “tablas,” “tercios,” and “medios.” the Bullfight takes place in each one. It also divides the three acts of the scene: suerte de varas (banderillas), muletas and estoque.
Callejón: The most existing corridor between the barrier and the wall of support of the tendidos. It is known for being not so wide.
Okay! With this information, I hope you can understand what I’ll explain next. (Sorry, I know that’s too much jargon, but I swear everything will make sense).
4. What is the Purpose of Bullfighting?
Bullfighting represents an asset of the Spanish cultural heritage. This is a spectacle authorized by law its main purpose is to take advantage of an animal’s instincts through calculated movements. This involves developing many skills, such as observing and understanding the Bull’s reactions before taking action.
Bullfighting is more based on the relationship of positions, distances, and speeds between the man and the animal, where the actual value of the Matador depends on his capacity for accuracy.
“The history of Bullfighting is linked to the history of Spain, so much so that without knowing the first, it will be impossible to understand the second."
- José Ortega y Gasset.
To learn more about this famous tradition in Spain, you should visit the following article:
These images have been taken from our memorable visit to the Plaza de Toros in Sevilla. It was a true spectacle and a fantastic experience to have visited one of the most iconic Bullrings in Spain.
If you have the opportunity to visit it, go! There’s a lot of Bullfighting history there that will complement your knowledge on this topic. Let me know if you go! :)
5. What are the types of Bullfighting?
This is the classic Spanish style of Bullfighting. Bulls with an average age of 4 to 6 years are used. In each “Corrida de Toros” 6 Matadors have to win over 6 Bulls in the bullring. Only professional bullfighters are allowed to fight the Bull.
“Touradas” or “Corridas de touros” is a Portuguese style bullfights. The main difference with the Spanish is that Matadors fight the Bull from a horse. In addition, Bulls are not killed in the bullring, under the eye of the spectator, but in the slaughterhouse.
Bullfights with bulls with an average age of 2 to 3 years, and the bulls are killed in the bullring.
Bullfights with bulls and/or cows under 2 years of age, and the bulls are killed in the bullring.
Rejoneos/corridas de rejones
Bullfights with fighting on horseback, and the Bull is killed in the bullring.
The term capeas refers to bullfights without amateur bullfighters where the Bull is provoked with the cape. In this type of Bullfight, the Bull is not killed.
Bombero toreros/toreros cómicos
Bullfights with short people and/or clowns. In this type of Bullfight, the Bull is not harmed or killed.
6. What are the stages of a Bullfight?
Okay, so these are the three essential phases of an authentic bullfight.
Each Bullfight is divided into three stages or tercios. These are called:
Tercio de varas
Tercio de banderillas
Tercio de muerte
Each one is differentiated by a series of characteristics that we will explain below, and the beginning of each stage occurs when the bugle sounds. This metallic wind instrument produces a high-pitched sound typical of bullfights.
El Tercio de Varas
The tercio de varas is the first stage of a bullfight. Here, the brave Bull enters the ring while the Matador observes its behavior and bravery.
By doing this, the Matador can know whether the Bull is brave, strong, or distracted.
When the president orders the exit of the picadors, the Matador takes on a more observant role. While one pokes the Bull to weaken its strength, the other covers its exit so it does not run away.
Now, the second phase of a bullfight is called Banderillas. Here, “banderilleros” (often three) poke the neck of the Bull with the famous “banderillas.” They usually place two banderillas on the Bull’s shoulders. But, in some cases, it is done by the Matador to weaken the Bull and make it brave.
El Tercer Tercio
This is the most dangerous stage and also the most awaited by the spectators. Here’s when the Matador faces the Bull and must end him in less than 15 minutes.
This animal is native to the Iberian Peninsula and stars in bullfights and other popular festivities such as running of the bulls and Bullfighting. However, in recent years, animal rights movements have introduced controversy into Bullfighting. Read more info about it in the following article:
Illescas, Olivenza, Valencia, Castellón de la Plana, Coria.
Seville, Brihuega, Cáceres.
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Madrid, Valencia, Zaragoza, Jaén.
Of course, I could not end this article without mentioning Spain’s most special festivity related to Bullfighting. San Fermines! You must have heard of it before. Here’s a picture of me —very far away from the real thing, but safety comes first to me! (read more)
Now that you know everything about Bullfighting, you will only need the tickets to live this unique spectacle yourself. And what better place to experience it than Spain?
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!
I fell in love with Bullfighting after seeing the movie The Brave Bulls, 1947 I believe the next movie
was The. Bullfighter and the Lady, the next was The Magnificent Matador my favorite. I'M LEARNING
SPANISH now, going to Spain in August.
I saw my first Bullfight in 1975 in MEXICO, IT WAS A GOOD CARD. the next time in CANCUN MEXICO
NOT A GOOD CARD AT ALL I would like to see some tapes of novellas. is it possible? A little background, I'M black 82 yrs young my mom 106 yrs young
Nice to hear that you're coming to Spain in August. I'm sure you'll have a fantastic time.
Regarding Bullfighting, I really suggest you visit Las Ventas Bullring in Madrid and La Maestranza in Seville. Both will provide an amazing journey through the history of Bullfighting in Spain, famous matadors, costumes and very interesting facts for Bullfighting enthusiasts.
Let us know about your experience when you come! :)
Millions of people como to Spain every month! But many never get to experience the SENSATIONAL SPAIN!!
We're both born and raised Spaniards and our goal is to give you all the resources to plan a perfect trip to Spain.