Spain’s Bullfighting ban

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From next Monday, January 1 Cataluña’s bullrings will be empty and silent as the ban on ‘sport’ comes into effect, Madrid based author Peter Fieldman reports.

SPAIN is a nation that widely considers bullfighting to be a noble art, a tradition that passes down through generations as well as an important industry.

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It is therefore not surprising the nation has been divided by the Cataluña Government’s decision to ban it throughout its region. Critics point out that the ruling to ban the sport has more to do with politics than animal welfare.

Aficionados respond to the accusations about cruelty to animals by pointing out how the bulls are reared and treated like royalty before their final destiny with death in the bull ring compared to most livestock led to the slaughterhouses for an ignoble end.

Josep Rull, spokesman for the right wing administration denied any political reasons. “It is not politically motivated but a question of changing values in our society.”

bullfigting-1382-2_webBut was this decision really necessary? The bull-fight or corrida has been an integral part of Spanish culture for hundreds of years.

Spanish artist Goya was an early aficionado and his Tauromaquia series of paintings and drawings illustrate in detail some of the earliest known bullfights.

But although the major festivals still attract the crowds, the sport – if it can be called a sport – has been on the decline for several years, attracting less support as the younger generation’s interest shifts to other forms of entertainment and sporting activities, dominated, of course, by football.

Nevertheless as far as Cataluña is concerned the final curtain came down in the Moorish and Byzantine style, Monumental Plaza de Toros in Barcelona last September 25, the last bullfight of the summer season.

Fittingly it gave an opportunity to the current number one matador, Jose Tomas, to entertain the 20,000 crowd who had paid up to €1,000 to see the star perform for the last time in the city and bring to an end over 100 years of corridas since the bullring was inaugurated in 1914.

Local supporters of bullfighting will still be able to follow the sport. As Luis Alcantara, director of the bullfighting school of Cataluña said. “We will go to Valencia, Zaragoza, even France.”

The Provencal cities of Nimes and Arles still organise corridas in their Roman arenas where the art, or sport, of fighting bulls has a history dating back before the Roman Empire.

DSC_2354_webThe Greeks and Romans revered the strength and spirit of the bull long before the Spanish. Surely it is not for a handful of local politicians to end a cultural icon and this may in fact be a temporary ban since politics is always on shifting sands.

In the meantime the Barcelona arena can revert to other spectacles. The bullring has already hosted several pop concerts and its circular shape makes it ideal for circus and other sports events.

The danger is that despite it being a protected architectural monument, it will be demolished to make way for new commercial or residential development.

Manolete would turn in his grave. My interest in bullfighting started with my first visit to Spain in the 1960s when Franco was in charge. I saw corridas in Barcelona with the best of them; Diego Puerta, who died last 30 Nov at 70 years old, Paco Camino and El Cordobes.

Following Hemingway’s footsteps I ran with the bulls, or rather behind them, through the narrow city streets during the annual San Fermin festival held every July in Pamplona.

The bullring in Gerona, so popular with tourists, where I saw my first bullfight, was demolished in 2007 and when I returned to Pamplona a few years ago it was overcrowded with drunken tourists.

Hemingway would not have been amused. Although bulls have been reared for fighting for centuries, Spain’s bull rings have only been in existence since the eighteenth century when the first square arenas were conceived. A century or so later they had become circular in form to prevent the matadors and bulls from being cornered.

Spain’s oldest bullring in Seville dates from the end of the 18th century, although the current arena, in true Andalucian style, was not completed until 1880.

Its 12,500 spectators have the reputation of being the most demanding in Spain. Foreign residents and tourists on the Costa del Sol are probably more acquainted with the smaller picturesque bullring in Ronda with its museum, built around the same time as the Seville arena.

Las Ventas, the spectacular, monumental Moorish style building in Madrid, which was not constructed until 1931, has the privilege of being the largest bullring in the country with seating for 25000 spectators.

With Barcelona closed down the Plaza de Toros in Pamplona, built in 1922, takes its place as the country’s second most important bull ring. Given the international interest and money that flows into the city from tourists and aficionados alike during the San Fermin festival it is unlikely that the Navarra Government will seek to end such a lucrative and popular event.

So long as people are prepared to pay to witness death in the afternoon the corrida is likely to remain a part of Spain’s cultural heritage.

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