The day I found out what happens at a bullfight

Tears are welling up behind my dark sunglasses. Around me people are waving white handkerchiefs and the encouraging “olés” can be heard all over La Glorieta. I knew I shouldn’t have come… What was I thinking?

It all started the day before, when travelling from León to Salamanca. In the bus station my attention was drawn towards the numerous posters advertising Salamanca’s “Feria Taurina” or “bullfighting festival”. I had always been curious about this Spanish tradition or what some even call “art form”. But at the same time I was very wary of assisting a corrida. Of course I didn’t agree with the slaughtering of an innocent animal just for pleasure, but like many others before me I really wanted to try to understand what thrives thousands of Spaniards to be so passionate about it! I wanted to find out what happens at a bullfight.

21,50€ later, I find myself at the entrance of La Glorieta, Salamanca’s very own bullring. I am amazed by the sheer size of it, there must be at least 10.000 seats! Being early means I have time to read about the rules and regulations. I struggle with terms like ‘banderilleros’, ‘picadores’ and ‘estocada’, I learn that there are 3 different stages in each fight and that apparently I am in for 3 different matadors fighting 6 different bulls!

At 7 pm, the first bull enters, accompanied by the fanfare and trumpets of the brass band. I’m still not sure if I made the right decision to come…

What happens at a bullfight

During the first part, the ‘picadores’, sitting on armoured horses, attack the bull with long pole-sticks to try and weaken its neck muscles. As the bull goes for the horses, I start feeling sorry for both animals, surely that mustn’t be right…
The matador (the person who actually kills the bull in the end) observes the animal’s behaviour closely while he swings his cape around to draw the bull’s attention away from the horses.

During the second phase, things start to get serious: the ‘banderilleros’ are brought in. These are the people that try to stick what I can only describe as a huge darts between the bull’s neck and shoulder to weaken it further. Blood starts to appear and I am starting to get more and more uncomfortable, realizing that I am watching an animal slowly getting killed…Each stage lasts for about 20 minutes, if they are going to kill the poor animal, I hope they’ll to do it straight away!

Finally the matador starts moving forward encouraged by the public. Every time he swirls his cape graciously, the bull charges and passes underneath. The bull seems to be raging by now: all of a sudden the matador is taken up the bull’s horns and thrown off a few meters further. People hold in their breath: “is he going to be alright”? Unfortunately for the bull he is… He gets up and when the bull charges again, hanging his head, the matador thrusts his sword into the bull, killing it instantly!

I hide behind my sunglasses, crying, while the public, satisfied with seeing a brave fight, waves their white handkerchiefs, meaning the matador could be honoured by taking the bull’s ear or tail home…

There are five more fights to watch, but I’ve had enough! While the matador does his round of honour, the carcass of the bull is taken out of the arena by harnessed horses and I am heading home, feeling miserable.

Should bullfighting be banned?

I am glad I found out what happens at a bullfight, I got to learn some of the rules and regulations and got to see and witness the passion a lot of Spanish people still have for the bullfighting. On the other hand, I feel guilty, because my curiousness and money helped financing the bull’s death….

So, will I go again? No! Call it tradition, call it art, call it sports, …in the end an innocent animal gets killed and I’m afraid there simply aren’t any excuses for that!

If you have been touched by this article and think bullfighting should be banned, please take a moment to sign this petition:

22 Replies to “The day I found out what happens at a bullfight”

  1. Jessica (Barcelona Blonde)

    I had no idea Salamanca’s bullfighting ring was so big – 10,000 people? I am SO against bullfighting, I think it’s cruel. When I first moved to Spain, I didn’t realize they actually killed the bulls. But it seems like perspectives on bullfighting are changing; it’s banned in Catalonia, where I live, and lots of my friends say it’s something that used to be popular with their grandparents but is slowly dying out.

  2. Casey O'Connell

    I also have always been curious to see bullfight; it’s a huge part of culture and traditional, but I would probably also feel completely devastated after going. I cringed through an entire elephant show in Thailand during a school field trip when I was teaching, and it now breaks my heart every time I see tourists come to Thailand and ride elephants. As I continue to travel, I am more and more prone to stay away from activities involving animals, as it never fares well for the animals.

  3. Stephen

    I had the same decision to make in Mexico, friends we were staying with really wanted to go so in the end I went. Always a difficult line to walk, eh? I have to admit that usually curiosity gets the better of me and I end up doing whatever it is in question, though it doesn’t always sit well afterwards.

  4. Beth

    I’m so against things like bull fighting, cock fighting etc… but sometimes I get torn. I focus on culture and these are huge cultural aspects for many countries. I always fight with myself on whether to go or not.

    I haven’t been to Spain other than Barcelona, where bull fighting in banned, but I’m not sure I could do it.

  5. Lies

    Spain has some interesting history and traditions, but this particular one makes me incredibly sad. I’m surprised bull fighting is still legal.

  6. Revati

    I’m not quite sure how I feel about this. Not the bullfighting, but the whole “we all go because we’re curious and then tell the world not to support them”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty of it myself. But it’s just something to think about, because we as travel bloggers do have a certain responsibility, and while a lot of journalists tend to do this kind of “I did it in order to report the facts” I wonder if it’s time we changed things around.

    • Els Post author

      I totally agree with you! When going, I realized that my curiosity contributed to financing this. But at least I know now what I’m talking about iso just bashing it without knowing what I’m talking about. But I definitely see your point, it’s a fine line…

      • Domenico

        this is retarded. Can’t you see that the arenas get their money mostly from people who go there ”from curiosity” ? do you also have to go to war to make sure it’s as bad as they say? The lady on the comment below from ”MAD Travel Diarrheas”, do you also respect traditions of extreme islamists that stone women to death?

        • Els Post author

          Thanks for your comment, if you read the article thoroughly, you’d have seen that this was exactly my problem 🙂

  7. MAD Travel Diaries

    Oh my, brings back memories of me going in Madrid. We left after the first round, we couldn’t watch anymore. You describe the atmosphere to a “T” to what I experienced too and I agree, sometimes what other foreign culture consider tradition etc, it goes against our beliefs and sometimes it’s best to avoid. I’m glad I went too, I respect the traditions involved in bull fighting but it’s not my thing , same reasons as you.

  8. Andrew

    I’m not surprised. I would love to photograph and experience one of these events, but I just can’t support it and know I would not enjoy it one bit. Awful cruelty.

  9. Emma Hart

    Horrible, horrible, horrible. I really don’t understand why they do this. I know it’s a traditional past time in Spain but it just sounds like animal torture to me. I might have done the same as you, bought a ticket just to understand what bullfighting was about and why it’s so important in Spain, but this post has done enough to put me off. I’m just sorry you had to see that 🙁

  10. Bailey K.

    Ugh. I wouldn’t be able to go. I’m vegan and completely opposed to this. Some traditions are not okay and should be stopped, even if it’s a part of “culture”! I mean, gladiator fighting was tradition, too, and part of their culture.

  11. lorrie

    wow you are brave for even going to that as soon as I realized it was more than just a show and the animal would get hurt I would have walked out. im a animal lover been in petcare for almost 11 years. the only animal I do not love is spiders those I do not mind if they get killed.

  12. Katie

    Maybe I am very naive, but I didn’t think they still killed the bulls at those events! Not for me! I couldn’t watch that happen, though I do understand the history and culture behind it.

  13. Aileen

    Great post; much like you, I am conflicted whenever animals are involved in any tourism activity there may be in a country. For example, my encounter with Elephants in Thailand was still controversial no matter how the farm (Patara Elephant Farm) did not make them perform tricks etc. since we mostly learned about taking care of them and their healthcare.

    Anyhow, about the bull fighting, I have to admit that I have always wanted to witness one… but indeed, when they are killed–that’s something I can’t support :/

  14. Eileen

    I also attended a bullfight in Sevilla which was hard to watch. However, I met an ex-matador’s wife and she explained a lot of the sport to me, about how these bulls were given full pastures and pampered for years. Every single part of the animal was used after its death. It doesn’t make it completely right, but I happily chow down on burgers all the time, so I can’t be outraged at something like this or I’d personally be a hypocrite!

  15. Grietje

    Oef, sounds like a harsh day…
    As we’re experiencing in the Netherlands also: not every tradition is necessarily only nice! It’s a big safety blanket though: calling something a tradition and no one can touch it.

  16. Lexi

    I feel the same way about these things, I’m often torn between experiencing the culture and feeling worried about the way the animals may be treated.

    And I would have cried also, I didn’t realise the bulls were killed :S


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