Plaza de Toros Las Ventas is the third largest bullfighting ring in the entire world, and its right here in Madrid! Bullfighting is a traditional Spanish art in which an individual, typically a man, with a sword and a cape tries to attract a bull as close to his body as he can (by movement of the cape), without allowing the bull to hurt him. Crowds of people watch on anxiously as the man stares death straight in the eyes. At the end, the man kills the bull, and the crowd judges how artful and beautiful they deem the performance. If the man performed well, he will be given the ears and tail of the bull as a trophy. Many foreigners to Spain, and those unfamiliar with the tradition of bullfighting, may wonder what’s the meaning behind this tradition? Bullfighting can be a touchy subject for many, as some people find bullfighting to be an inhumane way to treat an animal. I decided to take an interactive tour of Las Ventas, to find out for myself what this Spanish tradition is all about.
The tour begins with a viewing of two very large bulls that have been stuffed. One of these bulls died in the ring, and the other died of old age as it was a breeding bull. Some bulls are used specifically for breeding, as they have a demeanor necessary for bullfighting and are very large. Breeders of the bulls want to have the large bull ready for fighting, so they can sell it to the largest bull rings (for example Las Ventas). After seeing some of the bulls, the tour heads towards the actual bullfighting ring. Here we can see where spectators watch the fights. There is a special box for the King of Spain and the president of Las Ventas. Heading from the ring, the tour continues onto a virtual reality game. Here, you can put on VR goggles and stand in the middle of a mini bullfighting ring. You’ll play a quick game where you are the bullfighter, so you can experience of a small level what it might be like to stand in the middle of the ring. Following that portion of the tour, you’ll be able to check out the museum, where many relics from past bullfighters are stored. For example, the capes, swords, and even the heads of past bulls, are found in this museum. My tour guide, Carlos, was really knowledgeable about the history of bullfighting, and was able to answer any questions I had.
When you travel to a foreign country, you have to keep in mind they may have traditions that are different from what you’re used to. Before attending the tour, I was a little wary of this tradition. My tour guide explained to me that there are many positive aspects of bullfighting. For example, the bulls that are used for bullfighting are given a life much longer than others that are killed for their meat. These bulls receive nothing but the best food, treatment, and lands, often being given dozens of acres of land just for themselves. This land is also protected under Spanish law, so no commercialized companies can buy this land and urbanize it. In this way, the bulls are good for the ecology of Spain. After the bullfight, all the meat from the bulls is processed and sold, so no part of the bull goes to waste. Taking this tour showed me that there are many more aspects of bullfighting than it seems. Additionally, the bullfighter will not be considered a good fighter if he does not kill the bull at the first and most humane chance he gets. The bullfighter must follow a specific method while fighting. The methods he used should be artful and purposeful.
Spanish people are not attending bullfights to watch a bullfighter hurt an animal. Rather, they are going to appreciate a 200 year old tradition, that they consider to be art. If you want to learn more about bullfighting, then I highly recommend going on a tour of Plaza de Toros Las Ventas. You’ll certainly come away with a greater understanding of a tradition you may have once found confusing. To learn more about Plaza de Toros Las Ventas, check out their official website, here.