We arrived at Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballeria de Sevilla in the evening hours. The summer sun was still blazing down, the stadium grand with elegant trimmings. It is Spain’s oldest bullring; its construction began in 1749.
There was anticipation in the air as merchants peddled striped seat cushions, cigars, frozen water, peanuts and candies. There were also hats and fans to shield spectators from the scorching sun. These trinkets would be vital for any attendees who had chosen the least-expensive seats, which would be directly within reach of the sun’s sizzling rays.
Faces from all corners of the world were in the darkened, tunnel-like passageways that formed the perimeter around the ring: middle-aged Asian tourists, backpacking American college students, and elegantly-dressed Spanish couples. Some fans sported bandanas on which their favorite matador’s image was emblazoned. I was surprised to see young Spanish children there as well. There was a young boy with his father’s hand resting on his shoulder in a reassuring manner, little girls clad in frilly dresses, hair ribbons and lacy, anklet socks. I’d earlier read that Spanish television channels had restricted the broadcasting of bullfights specifically to protect child viewers. Therefore, I was surprised to see children under the age of ten in attendance.
Upon entering the stadium, the colors were magnificent: the ring’s curry-colored dirt floor contrasted sharply with the flawless blue sky and stark-white architectural accents. Also, there was the mosaic-like jumble of clothing of attendees and the dark uniforms of official personnel.
Suddenly, lively snippets of music from Bizet’s Carmen commenced and out came the torero doing their signature prance, closely followed by a trailing legion of photographers. The costumes worn by men on horseback, as well as those worn by the torero, were stunning. The outfits were in crimson, purple and turquoise hues, with the primary matador’s cloth being woven with a thick gold embroidery. It’s no wonder why this outfit is known as a traje de luces or ‘suit of lights.’
I was impressed by this pageantry, initially. How swiftly my mood changed when the disoriented bull arrived into the ring and the two sharp banderillas (sticks with a sharp end) were brought out in the steady hands of a banderillero. To great pomp and circumstance, the first banderillas were plunged into the bull’s back and later its neck. Blood seeped from the bull’s wounds, leaving its now-crimson back radiating agony in the sun. I watched for a second, and then glanced away, using my Spanish fan to help block the scene.
The matador’s moves were refined and practiced and he was poised as he gracefully swayed the hot-pink cape past the aggravated 1,100-pound bull. The torero continued to pierce the animal with spears, risking their own harm to elicit gasps and cheers from the crowd. Despite their courage, I pondered what percentage of the Spanish citizenry actually reveres them for this practice. (A Gallup poll from 2006 indicated that only 8% of Spanish citizens consider themselves bullfighting fans. Yet, the Spanish king was once quoted as saying if the European Union were to ban bullfighting, then that would be the day Spain removes itself from the EU.)
With each approach of the bull, each twirl of the matador, each stab, the audience grew ever more enthralled. Old ladies stood up to cheer. Others sat in their seats with emotionless faces, their hands cloaking their mouths. Some children watched listlessly, while others played with their hand-held video games or mobile phones. Occasionally, the picadores (a pair of horsemen) rode into the ring to stab the bull with a long spear. The bull charged the two horses several times, causing the horses to get rammed into the wall. One horse was violently knocked to the ground.