It was another late start for us in Madrid and today was the day we got to see the bullfighting stadium, Las Ventas. To get there we had to take the metro, something that had become quite a routine while here in Madrid. Going up the stairs of the Las Ventas station we got our first view of the amazing feat of architecture that the stadium is. I was in awe. I assumed it would be a smaller building, but the size of the building and its many many archways blew me away.
Our guide through on the tour of the stadium was Raul who from the beginning brought an incredible energy to a group still in the process of waking up. He first taught us about some of the greatest bullfighters to ever fight in Las Ventas. One of them was named “Manolete” and Raul gave him the nickname Superman. He was famous for being one of the best bullfighters ever and was doing moves no one had ever done. In all sports there are generational talents who change the sport. Some modern examples in American sports are people like Tom Brady, Steph Curry, or LeBron James and I got the sense that Manolete was the bullfighting equivalent of those athletes
As we moved through the stadium we first stopped at a terrace overlooking the street outside and Raul explained that is the area where people go to drink and argue before the fights even begin. He even said the fights on the terrace can be more entertaining than the ones with the animals. Raul also explained the architecture is a mixture of styles between catholic and Muslim styles honoring the histories both religiouns have in the country. Next, we took a look at some taxidermied bulls to see the size. I will say they are smaller than I expected but Raul explained that the best fighters are the ones around 500kg because if they are too big they are slow and not as fun to watch. When we went out into the stadium we could really see how big it was. It seats around 23,000 people which feels very small compared to some of the massive stadiums we have in America, but that is still quite a crowd.
Inside the concourse they had a virtual reality station set up to let people try being a matador or bullfighter. I volunteered and went first putting on the harness and goggles just hoping not to make a fool of myself. The game was clearly meant to be easy but it was fun to put myself in the shoes of a matador. I had to shake the controller to call the bull to charge and when it did I had to move the cape with the bull at first then lift it up so he would stop running. If there was a way to bullfight in virtual reality without harming a real animal I think I would do it because I really enjoyed the minute and a half I had in that game. Raul made it clear that the job of the matador is to put on a show and demonstrate control of the bull with style and class.
We watched a short video showing the different aspects of the bullfight from the start where they test how the bull will react, to the picadors on horses, to the banderilleros with their harpoons. The video was graphic but after watching it I thought watching a bullfight wouldn’t be that hard. Going into the trip I had made my opinions clear that I have a moral issue with bullfighting as it is the torture of an animal for the entertainment of a crowd. But if you’re going to criticize something you should at least be familiar with why you dislike it, which is why I decided to go see that night’s fight.
We got seats in just the ninth row so we were very close to the action, almost a little too close. When the event started I had a lot of nervous energy and a morbid curiosity about what I was going to watch. Earlier in the day we had seen up close the costumes the fighters wear, but there was no comparison to actually seeing them in action. Though we couldn’t make out the exact patterns, the gold embroidery shimmered in the sun and was truly stunning. Once all the fighters were in position and ready the gate with the bull opened. As soon as you could see the bull you could see the fear he had being in an unknown place and already bleeding from his back. The first part of the fight where they have the bull run at the pink and yellow capes or capote to learn the bulls movements and this was my favorite part. It didn’t involve the animal getting injured and the matadors could really show off their style and flare like Raul had told us about. After the matadors had sufficiently analyzed the bull, the picadors came out with their spears and on horseback. Their purpose is to see how the bull responds to pain because if he backs off and won’t fight they will have to get a new bull. This part may have been my least favorite beside the death of the bull because for the picador to spear the bull he must let the bull run into the horse. The horse is wearing a Kevlar vest and is safe enough but I can’t help but feel bad for it. The last group before the matador is the banderilleros who have small harpoon spears to stick in the bulls back. This job is probably the most dangerous because they’re on their feet and have no cape so the movement they use to attract the bull is their own body. After the six harpoons had been stuck in the bulls back it was significantly bloodied. Every time the bull charged more and more blood came pouring out of its many injuries. Finally it was the matador’s turn to finish off the animal with his sword. Raul explained that there is a small area about the size of a quarter that will stop the bulls heart in five seconds if hit with the sword. I was hoping this would be the case because the bull was obviously in extreme pain and I wanted its misery to be over. The matador used his small red cape to make the bull charge past him many times and after some passes the bull couldn’t even fully stand because it had lost so much blood and was so tired. When the matador finally decided to plunge his sword into the animal’s back it seemed to me that he may have hit the perfect spot as the bull fell quickly and died.
The tickets for the fight were rather expensive so I decided for it to be worth it I could stomach one more fight. For the second fight of the day it went mostly the same as the first except it took the bull a little more coaxing for him to charge. There was a group of older men right behind me who were very into this fight but only because they hated the bullfighter. They were heckling so loudly that at one point almost the whole stadium shushed them. Raul was very correct about the passion some people have for the sport whether it be for or against certain fighters and these guys really showed their disdain for the matador even cheering for the bull for a little bit. The end of the second fight was much harder for me to watch as the matador clearly didn’t hit the perfect spot and the bull began coughing up blood which is when I had to turn my head away.
The two fights I witnessed helped solidify my opinion that bullfighting is a cruel sport that is just the torture of an animal for fun. I don’t plan on ever watching another fight but I don’t regret seeing them. I can’t say I recommend everyone see one but it certainly was an eye opening and educational experience for me. All in all it was a long and emotionally draining day, but I wrapped it up with some good food and company with friends.