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Bullfights are an integral part of many fiestas. In the south, especially, any village that can afford it will put on a corrida for an afternoon, while in big cities like Madrid or Sevilla, the main festival times are accompanied by a week-long (or more) season of prestige fights.

Los Toros , as Spaniards refer to bullfighting, is big business. It is said that 150,000 people are involved, in some way, in the industry, and the top performers, the matadores , are major earners, on a par with the country's biggest pop stars. There is some opposition to the activity from animal welfare groups but it is not widespread: if Spaniards tell you that bullfighting is controversial, they are likely to be referring to practices in the trade. In recent years, bullfighting critics (who you will find on the arts and not the sports pages of the newspapers) have been expressing their perennial outrage at the widespread but illegal shaving of bulls' horns prior to the corrida . Bulls' horns are as sensitive as fingernails, and filing them a few millimetres deters the animal from charging; they affect the bull's balance, too, further reducing the danger for the matador .

Notwithstanding such abuse (and there is plenty more), Los Toros remain popular throughout the country. To aficionados (a word that implies more knowledge and appreciation than "fan"), the bulls are a culture and a ritual - one in which the emphasis is on the way man and bull "perform" together - in which the arte is at issue rather than the cruelty. If pressed on the issue of the slaughter of an animal, they generally fail to understand. Fighting bulls are, they will tell you, bred for the industry; they live a reasonable life before they are killed, and, if the bullfight went, so too would the bulls.

If you spend any time at all in Spain during the season (which runs from March to October), you will encounter Los Toros on a bar TV - and that will probably make up your mind whether to attend a corrida . If you decide to go, try to see a big, prestigious event, where star performers are likely to despatch the bulls with "art" and a successful, "clean" kill. There are few sights worse than a matador making a prolonged and messy kill, while the audience whistles and chucks cushions over the barrera . If you have the chance to see one, the most exciting and skilful events are those featuring mounted matadores , or rejoneadores ; this is the oldest form of corrida , developed in Andalucía in the seventeenth century.

Established and popular matadores include the veteran Enrique Ponce, César Rincón, Victor Mendes, Joselito, Litri, David "El Rey" Silveti and José María Manzanares. Two newer stars are Sevilla's golden boy, Antonio Bareas, and the 18-year-old prodigy Julián "El Juli" López. Cristina Sánchez, the first woman to make it into the top flight for many decades, retired in 1999, blaming sexist organizers, crowds and fellow matadores - many of whom refused to appear on the same bill as a woman. A complete guide to bullfighting with exhaustive links can be found at .

The corrida
The corrida begins with a procession , to the accompaniment of a paso doble by the band. Leading the procession are two algauziles or "constables", on horseback and in traditional costume, followed by the three matadores , who will each fight two bulls, and their cuadrillas , their personal "team", each comprising two mounted picadores and three banderilleros . At the back are the mule teams who will drag off the dead bulls.

Once the ring is empty, the algauzil opens the toril (the bulls' enclosure) and the first bull appears - a moment of great physical beauty - to be "tested" by the matador or his banderilleros using pink and gold capes. These preliminaries conducted (and they can be short, if the bull is ferocious), the suerte de picar ensues, in which the picadores ride out and take up position at opposite sides of the ring, while the bull is distracted by other toreros . Once they are in place, the bull is made to charge one of the horses; the picador drives his short-pointed lance into the bull's neck, while it tries to toss his padded, blindfolded horse, thus tiring the bull's powerful neck and back muscles. This is repeated up to three times, until the horn sounds for the picadores to leave. Cries of " fuera! " (out) often greet the overzealous use of the lance, for by weakening the bull too much they fear the beast will not be able to put up a decent fight. For many, this is the least acceptable stage of the corrida, and it is clearly not a pleasant experience for the horses, who have their ears stuffed with oil-soaked rags to shut out the noise, and their vocal cords cut out to render them mute.

The next stage, the suerte de banderillas , involves the placing of three sets of banderillas (coloured sticks with barbed ends) into the bull's shoulders. Each of the three banderilleros delivers these in turn, attracting the bull's attention with the movement of his own body rather than a cape, and placing the banderillas whilst both he and the bull are running towards each other. He then runs to safety out of the bull's vision, sometimes with the assistance of his colleagues.

Once the banderillas have been placed, the suerte de matar begins, and the matador enters the ring alone, having exchanged his pink and gold cape for the red one. He (or she) salutes the president and then dedicates the bull either to an individual, to whom he gives his hat, or to the audience by placing his hat in the centre of the ring. It is in this part of the corrida that judgements are made and the performance is focused, as the matador displays his skills on the (by now exhausted) bull. He uses the movements of the cape to attract the bull, while his body remains still. If he does well, the band will start to play, while the crowd olé each pass. This stage lasts around ten minutes and ends with the kill. The matador attempts to get the bull into a position where he can drive a sword between its shoulders and through to the heart for a coup de grâce . In practice, they rarely succeed in this, instead taking a second sword, crossed at the end, to cut the bull's spinal cord; this causes instant death.

If the audience are impressed by the matador 's performance, they will wave their handkerchiefs and shout for an award to be made by the president. He can award one or both ears, and a tail - the better the display, the more pieces he gets - while if the matador has excelled himself, he will be carried out of the ring by the crowd, through the puerta grande , the main door, which is normally kept locked. The bull, too, may be applauded for its performance, as it is dragged out by the mule team.

Tickets for corridas are ¬18 and up - much more for the prime seats and prestigious fights. The cheapest seats are gradas , the highest rows at the back, from where you can see everything that happens without too much of the detail; the front rows are known as the barreras . Seats are also divided into sol (sun), sombra (shade), and sol y sombra (shaded after a while), though these distinctions have become less crucial as more and more bullfights start later in the day, at 6 or 7pm, rather than the traditional 5pm. The sombra seats are more expensive, not so much for the spectators' personal comfort as the fact that most of the action takes place in the shade. On the way in, you can rent cushions - two hours sitting on concrete is not much fun. Beer and soft drinks are sold inside.

Anti-bullfight organizations
Spain's main opposition to bullfighting is organized by ADDA (Asociación para la defensa del animal). They co-ordinate the Anti-Bullfight Campaign (ABC) International and also produce a quarterly newsletter in Spanish and English. Their bilingual website - - has information about international campaigns and current actions.


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