How to watch a bullfight

how to watch a bullfight

You probably don’t know how to watch a bullfight. Or you may even not know if you actually want to attend one…

If you’re interested in the current season, check the official dates of Madrid, Seville and Pamplona.

Are you planning to attend one? Make sure to get your tickets well in advance!

Well, the special atmosphere that you can live in the bullring makes the Spanish bullfights a unique show that you will hardly see in any place in the world.

But if you’re still unsure, keep reading as I explain to you what goes on during the event and how to watch a bullfight.

Should you watch a bullfight?

I understand why people hate bullfighting.

Bullfighting is every bit as cruel and violent as the animal rights supporters make it out to be.

Yet a bull is only 20 minutes or so in the bullring. They are overlooking the fact that, up until their time in the arena, the bull has spent 4 or 5 years leading an untroubled life in the countryside compared to the stressful lives of most cattle.

All cattle must die in order to produce meat, and in most cases their life conditions are bad. Not to mention how they are killed in abattoirs.

So what critics don’t explain to you is that the issue with bullfighting should be how the animal is killed, rather than the fact that it’s killed at all.

They even claim that only tourists keep the event alive.

Nevertheless, it’s an amazing spectacle that deeply interests a large group of people.

Ultimately, it involves young men (and sometimes women) making significant sacrifices to become toreros and the inevitable injuries that the job brings. The sacrifice of the bull is just a demonstration that man’s intelligence can overcome the far greater strength, power and danger of a toro bravo.

So if you’re contemplating whether to watch a bullfight or not, you’ll see blood and death (of bulls and maybe men). But you’re consciously deciding to experience a unique part of the Spanish culture.

A bullfight is witnessing a dialogue between man and bull, with the torero attempting the bring out the animal’s best qualities while he performs in an artistic manner.

Now the ball is in your court…

How to watch a bullfight

You have made up your mind and you have decided to watch a bullfight during your trip to Spain.

Great. Here is what you should do next.

Do your homework before the bullfight

Read on the subject as much as you can.

Outside Spain there is very little understanding of what is a bullfight, what happens exactly during the event and how to experience it like a local.

The good news is that I have done all the work for you, so there is no need to wander throughout the Internet looking for practical information here and there.

And don’t forget to get your tickets well in advance!

While you are at the bullring

  • Focus on the performance of the matador who makes key interventions in at least 2 of the 3 stages of a single fight.
  • Keep an eye on everything that happens in the bullring, not only at the arena. There is always something interesting going on…
  • Most of the time bullfighting is about paying respect to all the participants, and more specifically to both the matador and the bull. So try to stay as silent as you can during each single fight. In between fights you can chit chat with your neighbors as much as you want.

What happens during a bullfight?

In a regular corrida de toros or bullfight, you are going to see 6 bulls and 3 matadores. Each matador fights 2 bulls.

Here you have a brief outline of how a Spanish bullfight is structured:

  • All the participants, including the matadores and their teams, enter the arena and parade in front of the audience.
  • Bugles and drums mark the entrance of the 1st bull for the 1st single fight.
  • The most experienced matador is the first participant to perform a single fight and kill the bull.
  • After the bull’s death, it’s removed. If fortunate, the matador is rewarded.
  • The monosabios perform the clearance of the arena.
  • Bugles and drums mark the entrance of the 2nd bull for the 2nd single fight.
  • It’s the 2nd most experienced matador‘s turn.
  • The fight takes place, the bull is removed and the arena is cleared.
  • Bugles and drums mark the entrance of the 3rd bull for the 3rd single fight.
  • It’s the less experienced matador‘s turn.
  • After this fight ends, the most experienced matador fights the 4th bull, the 2nd most experienced matador‘s the 5th bull, and the final 6th bull is for the less experienced matador, following the same sequence described above.

What happens during a single fight?

A single fight lasts around 20 minutes. So the full show lasts between 1 hour and 30 minutes and 2 hours and 30 minutes.

And this is what happens during a single fight:

  • The monosabios perform the clearance of the arena.
  • Bugles and drums mark the entrance of the bull.
  • The matador observes the bull and tests it using his capote.
  • Bugles and drums mark the 1st stage of the fight, the tercio de varas.
  • The picadores (horse mounted fighters) enter the arena and attack the bull 2 or 3 times.
  • Bugles and drums mark the 2nd stage of the fight, the tercio de banderillas.
  • The picadores leave the arena. Members of the matador‘s team place a total of 3 pairs of banderillas (barbed darts) on the bull’s neck.
  • Bugles and drums mark the 2nd stage of the fight, the tercio de muerte. It’s time for the matador to confront the bull on his own using a muleta (red cape).
  • After several encounters with the bull, the matador takes his swords and kills the bull.
  • After the bull’s death, it’s removed. If fortunate, the matador is rewarded.

Don’t have high expectations

To be honest, a bullfight is a lottery.

Even the best matadores confronting the best breed of bulls cannot guarantee an excellent bullfight. To give you an idea, out of 100 bullfights only 10-15 are performed well, and 1 is considered excellent. Not great odds if you only have time to attend one or two bullfights…

But then again, the whole experience is not only enjoying what’s happening on the arena. It’s actually the atmosphere, the crowds, the show time, the music and the colors!

So if you finally decide to go to a bullfight, try to read as much information as you can to understand what’s going on, bring your camera, and try to have a good time.

This article is part of a complete tutorial about bullfighting in Spain where you can read all the information you need to make the most out of your experience.

Here is a complete summary of all the guide:

1. What is bullfighting?
2. How to watch a bullfight
3. Bullfighting festivals in Spain
4. How to buy your bullfight tickets
5. 7 Bullfight tips to make the most out of the experience
6. FAQ about bullfighting, Spain’s oldest tradition
7. Understanding Spanish bullfight rules
8. Who are the bullfight participants?
9. Spanish bull fight preliminaries
10. First Spanish bullfighting stage: tercio de varas
11. Second Spain bullfight stage: tercio de banderillas
12. Third Spain bullfighting stage: tercio de muerte
13. The bullfight awards
14. 27 Interesting and curious bullfighting facts
15. A brief history of bull fighting in Spain
16. Glossary of bullfighting terms

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