The second stage of any Spain bullfight is the tercio de banderillas, during which banderillas (barbed darts decorated with colorful ribbons) are placed in the bull’s morrillo (a complex of muscles over the shoulder and neck).
But before going into more details…
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The banderillero, carrying a banderilla in each hand, runs towards the charging bull at an angle and places the banderillas in its neck. These are not supposed to weaken the bull but rather to provoke the bull to charge face on.
What is the tercio de banderillas?
After the tercio de varas, the bugle is blown once again to signal the beginning of the second act, the tercio de banderillas.
As the picadores leave the arena, the matador will try to perform some more intricate movements with the capote, just as you saw him do so during the tercio de varas.
Normally, each matador’s team of banderilleros performs this tercio, with the matador observing the proceedings from nearby in order to further study the bull.
Three banderilleros are present in the arena. Two of them perform the actual planting of the barbed darts, whilst the third one positions the bull using his capote.
The banderilleros have three attempts to place the banderillas.
And the bull must have a minimum of four banderillas in its body before the matador can ask for this stage to end.
Eventually, if the matador is particularly skilled, he might plant the barbed darts. But it doesn’t happen often.
Besides being a showcase of skill and courage, the banderillas serve another purpose.
The banderilleros‘ attacks are less intense than the picadores‘ earlier on so it can recover some power. If it’s a real toro bravo (or fighting bull, a different species than regular cattle) it will charge with more vigor and rage.
What is a banderilla?
A banderilla is a 75-centimeter brightly colored barbed dart. Its name, “small flag” in Spanish, refers to its decoration.
It’s covered in paper and has a 5-centimeter metal barb, similar to a hook. It also has a cord joining the pole to the metal barb.
That way, once the banderilla is in place, the bull’s movements unlink both pieces and the pole dangles from the cord at the side of the bull. This ensures that the matador has clean entry with the sword in the third act, the tercio de muerte.
As I have explained before, the purpose of a banderilla is to re-engage the bull after its demanding contact with the horse.
Why becoming a banderillero?
You my be wondering why would someone choose to be a banderillero instead of a matador? After all, the matador is the main character of the fight, and the one who will earn all the glory if he succeeds.
Well, in general, banderilleros are failed matadores.
They all have been to a bullfighting school, but for some reason (e.g. lack of talent or charisma), they were unable to get what it takes to be a professional matador.
But don’t take wrong, they aren’t bad or second-class professionals. Quite the contrary.
The task of a banderillero is extremely difficult, and it requires a lot of skill and courage to do what he actually does.
As I mentioned before, there are very few matadores who are capable of placing banderillas. And those who are, are highly respected by the audience.
How a banderillero performs in a Spain bullfight
As the picadores leave the ring, the banderilleros prepare themselves to face the bull.
However, they don’t have a cape to distract the bull but banderillas.
During this stage of a Spain bullfight, each banderillero tries to stick a pair of banderillas in the bull’s shoulders.
He carries one in each hand, and holds them in the up in the air as if they were horns while directing them at the bull.
The banderillas are placed while the banderillero walks gracefully while shouting at the bull, enticing it to charge facing him. As the bull approaches, the banderillero runs in a curved line towards the bull, and at the point at which the bull and the banderillero cross paths, he leans over the horns to place the banderillas, avoiding being seriously gored by the bull.
While the bull chases him, the banderillero often chooses to jump the barrier and escape.
Nevertheless, the tercio de banderillas is a part of the Spain bullfight in which serious accidents often happen.
Some of the banderillero‘s tactics in a Spain bullfight
There are several tactics that the banderillero can use to provoke the bull’s charge and to approach it.
Al cuarteo (Quartering)
It’s the most frequent modality. The bull stands on the picador‘s line and the banderillero is in front of him. When the bull starts to charge the banderillero goes out describing a semicircle until they both meet, at which time the banderillero must be place the barbed darts.
Al quiebro (Altering the course)
The banderillero stands in front of the bull (towards the barrier or the center of the ring), provokes the charging of the bull and waits for it with feet together. An instant before they meet, he moves his leg and/or lean the body towards the side where he wants the bull to pass by and just when he lowers its head, the banderillero recovers his initial position and places the barbed darts.
De frente (Face to face)
Both meet in a very small space. The banderillero faces the bull and places the barbed darts face to face.
De poder a poder (From strength to strength)
Tactic in which the banderillero doesn’t grant himself any advantage, he gives them all to the bull, instead. By letting the bull start running slightly before him, planting the barbed darts requires great courage and a lot of agility.
De dentro a afuera (Inside out)
This tactic is usually used as a resource to flag those bulls that have very little mobility and have a tendency to remain close to the barrier. The banderillero has to go in search of the bull, who is waiting for him very close to the barrier. The banderillero must be very skilled, nail the banderillas and escape running towards the center of the arena.
Desde la barrera (From the barrier)
The banderillero is placed with the barrier behind him. From there he provokes the charging of the bull. It’s an extremely dangerous tactic because the banderillero has less space to run from the bull in case something goes wrong.
Al violín (The violin)
It’s performed with one hand by placing the two barbed darts on the bull with a gesture similar to the act of playing the violin, hence the name. Once the banderillero provokes the bull, he raises the right hand with both banderillas, over the left shoulder.
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