MADRID — I am currently studying abroad in the metropolitan city of Madrid, Spain. Madrid is a large city with over three million people and boasts many unique types of neighborhoods, making any trip into a new area extremely exciting.
Located in the area of Salamanca, there is Calle de Serano, one of Madrid’s prime streets for designer clothes. Then, there are the neighborhoods of Chueca, Madrid’s gay neighborhood, and Malasaña, for the city’s hipsters, who I identify as “the cool people.” Madrid’s bustling theater district is located in Opera and tourists often flock to Sol for its many bars, restaurants and department stores.
Dividing Madrid into its different areas might make it sound a lot like New York City. But, given its age and place in history, Madrid has certain cultural aspects and qualities that New York City may never have. For example, Salamanca has a bullring where Madrid’s bravest matadors, or bullfighters, practice their sport of fighting and killing a bull with a sword. My current class on Ernest Hemingway includes his works on Spanish bullfighting and included attending a bullfight in Madrid.
Before arriving in Spain in August, I knew that bullfighting was popular in the country, but I had no personal opinion on it. When I learned I would be attending a bullfight as part of the class’s agenda, I was intrigued because I wanted to learn more about the sport. About a month ago, my class read Hemingway’s “Death in the Afternoon,” which taught me that bullfighting is a tradition in Spain, something that is unique to its culture.
The first bullfight in Spain dates back to 711 A.D., during a celebration of King Alfonso VIII. Aficionados highly respect the matadors and see them as “real men” who risk their lives. With countries’ unique cultures rapidly disappearing due to globalization, bullfighting allows Spain to hold on to its history. However, many Spaniards today do not approve of the sport because the fate of each bull that faces a matador is sealed.
Bullfights are now banned in Catalonia, one of Spain’s states. Many Spaniards and tourists believe the bullfights are cruel and pointless. Three matadors compete in a bullfight, each fighting two bulls with the goals of performing well, entertaining the crowds and ultimately killing the bull. Many are outspoken in their support for, or in opposition to bullfighting, which keeps the controversy in the public mindset.
Personally, I decided that I needed to see a bullfight in order to judge it. During the first fight, I watched the matador perform beautiful veronicas, which are moves the bullfighter makes as he holds his cape in both hands and moves it slowly over the bull’s head. These moves were named after St. Veronica, who wiped her cloth on Jesus’ face as he carried the cross. As Hemingway described bullfighting, it is not only a sport, but an art form with cultural and religious significance. I was impressed by the way the matadors moved, and I was coming to accept the sport, when quickly, my opinion changed. After seeing the first bull fight to stay alive, but then drop to the ground, bloodied and motionless, I found the sport to be inhumane and vicious. Throughout the bullfight, my opinion continuously vacillated from impressed to extreme dislike, and from approval to disgust.
With my respect for Spanish culture, but also for life, I remain conflicted. While I still may not be able to say I enjoyed or disliked the bullfight, I can say that I have a better understanding of the deep cultural roots of bullfighting and am more informed of the artistry and skill associated with the sport. To those traveling to Spain who are curious about bullfighting and unsure whether it is moral or ethical, I recommend that you first study its roots, experience it and only then come to a personal decision regarding the sport.