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The Bloody History of Bullfighting

Sep 30, 2022
History
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25
minutes

It's one of the most controversial topics in modern Spain; some say it's a cultural art form, and others say it's a brutal form of torture.

In this episode, we look at the history of bullfighting through the ages and ask ourselves what lies ahead.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about a controversial but defining part of Spanish culture.

[00:00:30] Bullfighting.

[00:00:31] Some say cultural artform, others say animal cruelty.

[00:00:36] It’s a marker of history, politics, geography and class, a tradition loved by some, and loathed by others. So, in this episode we are going to look at the past, present and future of this controversial activity.

[00:00:51] I should give you a quick warning that this episode does have some descriptions about bullfighting. So if you would rather not listen to that, please stop listening now.

[00:01:02] OK, let’s get right into it and talk about bullfighting.

[00:01:08] Quiet falls over the bullring, an anxious energy filling the stadium.

[00:01:13] A matador stands tall and faces a snarling bull, its head lowered to the floor.

[00:01:20] There are whistles from the crowd.

[00:01:22] Nervous yelps, and intakes of breath.

[00:01:26] Slowly the bull drags a foot through the clay, and then lunges forward with its horns.

[00:01:32] Dusty clouds shoot up into the air.

[00:01:36] The crowd gasps.

[00:01:37] The matador calmly steps aside, leading the beast with his cape.

[00:01:42] It turns and lunges towards him again.

[00:01:46] Stepping aside a second time, the matador takes his chance.

[00:01:50] He rises up, pulls back, and stabs downward at the bull with a sword.

[00:01:55] The arena explodes into cheers, claps and whistles.

[00:02:00] And the bull limps around, its steps unsteady.

[00:02:04] Blood pours down onto the clay, a red trail following it around the ring.

[00:02:09] The cheers grow louder.

[00:02:11] Go on, they scream. Do it.

[00:02:13] The bull collapses to the floor, writhing around in pain.

[00:02:18] Pulling a small blade from his waist, the matador approaches.

[00:02:22] There’s a half-moment of silence.

[00:02:25] He holds the blade high in the air, then plunges it into the top of the bull’s spinal cord.

[00:02:31] A twitching leg slowly comes to a rest and, finally, the bull is dead.

[00:02:37] The crowd rises up in a boom of claps and whistles.

[00:02:42] The matador moves into the middle of the ring, his hands raised in acknowledgement. 

[00:02:47] He thanks them, his costume splattered with blood.

[00:02:50] He bows, and blows kisses, but can’t help but notice that the crowd - although enthusiastic - is not as big as it used to be.

[00:03:00] There are empty seats dotted around the bullring.

[00:03:04] It never used to be like that.

[00:03:05] It certainly wasn’t like that when his father was a bullfighter. 

[00:03:10] As the American novelist and bullfighting fanatic Ernest Hemingway said famously in his 1932 book, Death in the Afternoon: “Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death.”

[00:03:25] But is bullfighting an art?

[00:03:27] Or is it a sport?

[00:03:29] Or is it torture?

[00:03:31] Well, if we take Spain, the country most synonymous with bullfighting, it depends on who you talk to.

[00:03:39] Some would say it is an archaic form of torture, but others would say it’s a form of art or cultural event.

[00:03:48] In fact, even to this day, bullfights are not reported in the sports sections of Spanish newspapers but in the cultural pages.

[00:03:57] So, what do they actually report on?

[00:04:00] Bullfighting is, simply put, a physical competition between a bull and a bullfighter, known as a torero in Spanish.

[00:04:10] I should say here that although bullfighting is most associated with Spain, and no doubt our Spanish listeners might get cross if it's referred to as anything other than Spanish, it also has deep roots in Portugal, southern France, and in countries across Latin America.

[00:04:27] Anyway, bullfights happen in a circular ring, known as the plaza de toros, and the bull charges towards the bullfighter.

[00:04:36] You might've seen footage before where the bullfighter uses a cape - often red - to control and turn the bull.

[00:04:45] This is where the famous English saying ‘Like a red rag to a bull’ comes from, used to mean something that is certain to produce an angry or violent reaction.

[00:04:56] But that’s actually a myth - bulls don’t charge at the colour red because they, like all cattle, are colour-blind. 

[00:05:04] The colour red was instead adopted because it covers up all the bloody stains the bullfighters get throughout the fight.

[00:05:13] Instead of reacting to the cape, the bulls respond to the movements made by the bullfighter.

[00:05:19] And these aren’t just any bulls.

[00:05:22] Fully grown fighting bulls can weigh up to 1,600 pounds - around 600 or 700 kilograms, the weight of a small car.

[00:05:32] These are no normal bulls, but an especially aggressive type bred for centuries to charge and attack bullfighters in the ring.

[00:05:42] In traditional Spanish bullfighting, there are normally six bulls and three bullfighters, known as matadors.

[00:05:50] Every matador has a small team helping him throughout the fight.

[00:05:54] The picadores perform during the first stage of the fight, known as the tercio de varas, and ride on horseback, weakening the bull and preparing it for the matador.

[00:06:07] The banderilleros support the matador throughout the fight, using their capes to distract and attack the bull while the matador judges the bull’s movements and temperament.

[00:06:19] They also stab banderillas [sharp, dart-like things] into the bull during the second stage of the bullfight - the tercio de banderillas - ahead of the main matador’s entry into the bullring.

[00:06:33] Each matador fights two bulls randomly assigned to them and as the bulls grow more and more tired, and more and more angry, the bullfighter uses his cape to position the bull for the kill.

[00:06:47] He waits for his opportunity, and then, rising up, stabs it between the shoulder blades in a downwards motion aiming for the heart.

[00:06:56] But, unfortunately this dramatic ending doesn’t always kill the bull outright.

[00:07:02] When they aren’t successful, the bullfighters have to use a special knife to sever the spinal cord and instantly put the bull out of its misery.

[00:07:12] So how did such a violent event - sport, torture, art - whatever it is, begin?

[00:07:20] Clearly, and sadly, one could say, human history is littered with instances of humans killing all sorts of animals, and even other humans, in the name of sport and enjoyment.

[00:07:32] And when it comes to fighting bulls in particular, historians are divided over where exactly it comes from.

[00:07:40] What is clear, however, is that the human fascination with bulls goes back a very long time.

[00:07:47] Some might say it goes back to Moorish Spain, the Muslim empire that ruled Spain for around 800 years from the 8th until the late 15th century. 

[00:07:59] Others might point to ancient Mesopotamia or the bull-taunting rituals of mediaeval Spain. 

[00:08:06] Although the image of modern bullfighting that we have today, with the bullring and capes and all the drama, is just a few hundred years old, it is safe to say that human interest in and interaction with bulls descends from a long, complicated mix of different rituals and cultures that goes back thousands of years.

[00:08:26] Archeologists on the Greek island of Crete, for example, discovered ancient paintings of rituals in which people grabbed bulls by the horns dating back to 1500 BC. 

[00:08:39] And you are probably familiar with the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur.

[00:08:45] Performances involving bulls were also common in ancient Rome, and prior to the Punic Wars - a long series of wars between the Romans and Carthaginians between 264 and 146 BC - a people called Celtiberians herded wild bulls into groups and used them as a weapon in war.

[00:09:07] In 228 BC historians believe they gathered a group of snarling bulls, tied them to wagons, set them on fire, and drove the herd towards the Carthiginian army.

[00:09:20] The Moors later developed a similar military strategy of using bull stampedes to attack the enemy.

[00:09:27] And the Romans were also intrigued by rumours of events held in the southern region of Spain now known Andalusia in which men took on a bull and killed it with a sword or axe.

[00:09:40] And as the Iberian Peninsula was invaded and conquered by the Vandals and Visigoths, they too lent their influence to bullfighting.

[00:09:50] And the Moors added to this.

[00:09:52] The Moors were known as great horse riders and breeders, and historians believe they were the first to fight bulls on horseback, which made killing the animals with their swords easier.

[00:10:04] Bullfighting tournaments were sometimes held between the Muslims and Christians, and in many towns they were held in the city squares - known as plazas - and that's where the Spanish name for bullring comes from.

[00:10:18] By the end of the 12th century, these types of public bullfights - often big festive celebrations - were popular across Spain.

[00:10:28] Perhaps the best known is the Fiesta de San Fermín, better known as the Pamplona bull runs.

[00:10:34] Immortalised by Ernest Hemingway in his novel ‘The Sun Also Rises’, the tradition of setting groups of angry bulls loose in the streets of Pamplona began in the 12th century and lives on to this day.

[00:10:48] Pamplona’s running of the bulls is a nine-day public party with lots of food, lots of wine, and plenty of goring - that’s what it’s called when a bull stabs one of the bull runners with its horns.

[00:11:02] Thousands of tourists - brave or foolish, depending on your opinion - travel to Pamplona from across the world to test their nerves and run with the bulls. 

[00:11:12] And some never make the journey home, since 1911, 16 people have been killed.

[00:11:19] But as thrilling as setting a load of angry bulls loose in the street is, it’s not exactly bullfighting.

[00:11:25] It is believed the first Spaniard to kill a bull on horseback in a proper arena was a man named Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, known as El Cid, in the 11th century.

[00:11:39] But this was during the Islamic Empire, and although bullfights were part of public festivities and used in competition between Muslims and Christians, they were not yet established as a distinctly Spanish tradition.

[00:11:54] When the Christians ‘reconquered’ Spain at the end of the 15th century bullfights quickly became the favourite sport of the Spanish aristocracy

[00:12:04] But they weren’t popular with everyone.

[00:12:07] The Queen at the time, Isabella I, hated bullfighting, and in 1567 Pope Pius V banned the sport.

[00:12:16] He even excommunicated Christian nobles who organised bullfights and denied Christian burials to anyone killed fighting a bull.

[00:12:26] Just like today, even 500 years ago bullfighting was a controversial topic.

[00:12:33] But as bullfights became more and more popular, eventually the church dropped the ban

[00:12:39] And around this time, in the 16th century, bullfights became such an integral part of Spanish life and society that special bullfights were held to celebrate holy days.

[00:12:51] Even to this day, the first day of the bullfighting season is still Easter Sunday in many parts of Spain. 

[00:12:59] Later, during the 18th century, the Royal House of Bourbon succeeded the Spanish throne with Philip V and things began to change.

[00:13:08] The Bourbons didn’t really approve of the tradition they had inherited, and the aristocracy slowly began to turn their backs on bullfighting.

[00:13:18] The Spanish general public, however, hadn’t got bored of bullfights yet.

[00:13:23] They wanted more.

[00:13:25] By now bullfights were becoming so popular that the specialist breeding of bulls had become financially profitable, and bulls were bred with specific bullfighting characteristics.

[00:13:38] Spanish bulls were being bred to be bigger, stronger, more likely to be violent, and with bigger horns - anything to make the spectacle more dangerous and exciting for spectators.

[00:13:51] As bullfighting became popular and financially profitable, one of the first professional bullfighters to take advantage of this was a man called Joaquín Rodríguez Costillares, who was born in the Andalusian city of Seville in 1729.

[00:14:09] Costillares is generally given credit for creating the ‘modern’ bullfighting style we know today, especially the luxuriously decorated costumes worn by matators, and the gruesome end to the fights.

[00:14:23] His main rival was a man named Pedro Romero from Ronda, also in Andalusia.

[00:14:31] Romero reportedly killed a staggering 5,600 bulls during his career and he popularised the red cape so synonymous with Spanish bullfighting today. 

[00:14:44] Now, despite both being from the same region of Spain, Andalusia, Costillares and Romero had very different styles.

[00:14:53] From them, the two classic “schools” of Spanish bullfighting were born.

[00:14:59] The Ronda style is noted for its simpler, slower style, whereas the glamorous, flamboyant style that came from Seville is more dramatic and expressive.

[00:15:11] It was around then, at the turn of the 19th century, that the painter Francisco de Goya painted and sketched bullfighting scenes, and bullfights became an interest of not only painters, but poets, novelists and sculptors.

[00:15:28] Goya, Lorca, Botero, Hernandez and other key Spanish artists wrestled with the topic of bullfighting in their work.

[00:15:37] In 1836 Francisco Montes, a famous matador, published a rule book called “Tauromaquia” and then, in 1859, with public demand for bullfighting getting bigger and bigger, the first official ring built to his dimensions was constructed in Valencia.

[00:15:56] A few years later, in 1868, the first bullfight that used modern day bullfighting techniques and rules - namely with 6 bulls and 3 matadors - took place.

[00:16:07] By now bullfighting was so popular that bullfighters were becoming celebrities.

[00:16:13] But they weren’t popular with everyone.

[00:16:16] Far from it.

[00:16:17] Spain’s famous ‘98 Generation’ of philosophers, writers and artists were openly critical of bullfighting’s rise, describing it as reactionary and backward.

[00:16:29] Even then, 100 years ago, anti-bullfighting sentiment was beginning to grow in Spain.

[00:16:35] Now, if you know anything about Spanish history, and particularly if you are one of our Spanish listeners, you will know that the 20th century was a complicated period for Spain.

[00:16:47] After a bitter Civil War between Nationalists and Republicans from 1936 to 1939, General Franco took control of Spain and ruled it as a dictator until his death in 1975.

[00:17:02] As part of his authoritarian regime, Franco was keen to encourage and promote bullfighting as Spain’s ‘fiesta nacional’ and he began tying it to traditional Spanish heritage and identity.

[00:17:17] Using emerging technology, Franco understood the symbolic power of television and being able to project nationalistic ideas of Spanishness into people’s living rooms.

[00:17:29] Hoping to equate Spanish identity with patriotism, more and more bullfights were televised, and by 1961 the Spanish press had credited televised bullfights with reviving bullfighting’s ‘essence as a facet of popular culture.’ 

[00:17:45] Through television, bullfighting grew from a popular but still somewhat niche sport to a national pastime and even a tourist attraction.

[00:17:57] But there were darker undertones to Franco’s use of bullfights.

[00:18:01] Not only were they used to construct a national identity favourable to his regime, but their popularity was also used to suppress political opposition.

[00:18:13] The most famous bullfighter of the 1960’s, a man named Manuel Benítez, admitted that “if a public protest was planned, we’d organise a televised bullfight.”

[00:18:25] But as bullfights grew in popularity, filling not only the bullrings but now bars and living rooms across Spain, bullfighting itself was becoming more controversial and political.

[00:18:38] And as Franco’s popularity waned, as it reduced, opponents of bullfighting often became involved with anti-nationalist politics and resistance, and treated with suspicion.

[00:18:52] Following Franco’s death in 1975 and Spain’s transition to democracy, bullfights remained popular but the anti-bullfighting energy growing in Spain became intertwined into separatist sentiment across the Spanish regions.

[00:19:09] However it was in the late-20th and early 21st century that the anti-bullfighting movement really began to take off.

[00:19:18] Now, as we’ve touched on already in this episode, for all the history and folklore of Spanish bullfighting, there has been an equally long history of opposition to it.

[00:19:30] It’s described as barbarous, animal cruelty, and torture, and opponents of bullfighting go back centuries.

[00:19:37] But it was at the turn of the 21st century that animal welfare and anti-bullfighting groups really gained momentum.

[00:19:46] Famous Spanish celebrities began to speak out.

[00:19:49] And in 1991 bullfighting was even banned on the Canary Islands, but it was never very popular there anyway and the islands hadn’t had a bullfight since the 1970’s.

[00:20:01] Then in April of 2004, the regional government in Barcelona declared itself a ‘city against bullfighting’ and then a few years later, in the summer of 2010, the Catalonian parliament banned it.

[00:20:17] The move was eventually implemented a couple of years later, in 2012, and I probably don’t need to say that this was a big deal.

[00:20:27] Unlike in the Canary Islands, Catalonia had a rich bullfighting history and culture.

[00:20:33] That a place like Barcelona - Spain’s second city and most popular tourist city, no less - banned bullfighting speaks to the changing attitudes in Spanish society.

[00:20:45] But four years later, in 2016, a Spanish constitutional court overturned the ban, deciding that regional governments cannot ban bullfights, although no new bullfights have taken place in the region since.

[00:21:00] In 2017 the regional government on the island of Mallorca also experimented with legislation that could bypass the constitutional courts.

[00:21:10] Though they didn’t ban bullfighting outright, the law stopped bulls being killed or suffering as part of the fight which clearly changes the nature of what a bullfight is.

[00:21:22] And bullfighting has emerged as a political battleground between competing visions of Spain and what it is to be Spanish. 

[00:21:31] When bullfights were eventually reintroduced in Mallorca in 2019, the facist anthem “Cara al Sol” - the national song under Franco - boomed from the bullring and drowned out animal rights protestors in the stadium.

[00:21:47] Now, back to the modern day.

[00:21:50] Like in many parts of the Western world, populist politics have taken over life in Spain.

[00:21:56] You know how it goes - each side picks a battle and makes it a front line of a ‘culture war.’

[00:22:02] In Spain things are no different, and bullfighting has become an integral part of these culture wars.

[00:22:10] For the Spanish left - whether socialist, environmentalist or separatist - bullfighting has become a symbol of the right and a memory of Franco’s facist regime; a relic of history best left behind.

[00:22:24] For the right, any attempt to ban or limit bullfighting is viewed as an assault on Spanish identity and represents an increasingly liberal, secular world.

[00:22:37] Far-right party Vox has made the preservation of bullfighting one of its core political themes, and some famous Spanish bullfighters have openly endorsed the party and run for public office.

[00:22:50] In regions with separatist impulses, like Catalonia, their bullfighting bans form a broader political vision: that they are separate from the rest of Spain and not part of this old-fashioned, traditional image.

[00:23:05] But what about the future?

[00:23:07] Will bullfighting ever be banned in Spain?

[00:23:12] Well, the truth is that it may not even be necessary - bullfighting is, it seems, slowly dying out.

[00:23:21] According to Spain’s Ministry of Culture, between 2007 and 2018, The number of bullfights in the country fell from 3,651 to 1,521.

[00:23:35] In 2018/19 just 8 percent of Spaniards went to a bullfight, and attendance is particularly low among young people.

[00:23:45] If things continue the way they are going - falling attendances, the regions trying to ban or modify bullfights themselves, financial difficulties, and young people losing interest - a nationwide ban might not even be necessary. 

[00:24:00] And, in any case, it seems unlikely that such a ban could ever pass the Spanish parliament.

[00:24:06] But will it ever die out as a cultural tradition?

[00:24:10] Will it ever stop being such a strong symbol of Spanish identity?

[00:24:14] What seems clear is that bullfighting will always live on as a polarising piece of political rhetoric that stirs up memories of civil war and dictatorship long after the last bull takes its last breath.

[00:24:30] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on bullfighting - the bloody, controversial activity that has divided opinion for centuries. 

[00:24:39] As always, and in fact even more than usual because we have so many listeners from Spain, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:24:48] What is your opinion about bullfighting, art form or torture, or somewhere in the middle? 

[00:24:54] What does the future hold for bullfighting, and is that a good or a bad thing?

[00:24:59] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:25:02] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:25:10] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:25:15] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about a controversial but defining part of Spanish culture.

[00:00:30] Bullfighting.

[00:00:31] Some say cultural artform, others say animal cruelty.

[00:00:36] It’s a marker of history, politics, geography and class, a tradition loved by some, and loathed by others. So, in this episode we are going to look at the past, present and future of this controversial activity.

[00:00:51] I should give you a quick warning that this episode does have some descriptions about bullfighting. So if you would rather not listen to that, please stop listening now.

[00:01:02] OK, let’s get right into it and talk about bullfighting.

[00:01:08] Quiet falls over the bullring, an anxious energy filling the stadium.

[00:01:13] A matador stands tall and faces a snarling bull, its head lowered to the floor.

[00:01:20] There are whistles from the crowd.

[00:01:22] Nervous yelps, and intakes of breath.

[00:01:26] Slowly the bull drags a foot through the clay, and then lunges forward with its horns.

[00:01:32] Dusty clouds shoot up into the air.

[00:01:36] The crowd gasps.

[00:01:37] The matador calmly steps aside, leading the beast with his cape.

[00:01:42] It turns and lunges towards him again.

[00:01:46] Stepping aside a second time, the matador takes his chance.

[00:01:50] He rises up, pulls back, and stabs downward at the bull with a sword.

[00:01:55] The arena explodes into cheers, claps and whistles.

[00:02:00] And the bull limps around, its steps unsteady.

[00:02:04] Blood pours down onto the clay, a red trail following it around the ring.

[00:02:09] The cheers grow louder.

[00:02:11] Go on, they scream. Do it.

[00:02:13] The bull collapses to the floor, writhing around in pain.

[00:02:18] Pulling a small blade from his waist, the matador approaches.

[00:02:22] There’s a half-moment of silence.

[00:02:25] He holds the blade high in the air, then plunges it into the top of the bull’s spinal cord.

[00:02:31] A twitching leg slowly comes to a rest and, finally, the bull is dead.

[00:02:37] The crowd rises up in a boom of claps and whistles.

[00:02:42] The matador moves into the middle of the ring, his hands raised in acknowledgement. 

[00:02:47] He thanks them, his costume splattered with blood.

[00:02:50] He bows, and blows kisses, but can’t help but notice that the crowd - although enthusiastic - is not as big as it used to be.

[00:03:00] There are empty seats dotted around the bullring.

[00:03:04] It never used to be like that.

[00:03:05] It certainly wasn’t like that when his father was a bullfighter. 

[00:03:10] As the American novelist and bullfighting fanatic Ernest Hemingway said famously in his 1932 book, Death in the Afternoon: “Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death.”

[00:03:25] But is bullfighting an art?

[00:03:27] Or is it a sport?

[00:03:29] Or is it torture?

[00:03:31] Well, if we take Spain, the country most synonymous with bullfighting, it depends on who you talk to.

[00:03:39] Some would say it is an archaic form of torture, but others would say it’s a form of art or cultural event.

[00:03:48] In fact, even to this day, bullfights are not reported in the sports sections of Spanish newspapers but in the cultural pages.

[00:03:57] So, what do they actually report on?

[00:04:00] Bullfighting is, simply put, a physical competition between a bull and a bullfighter, known as a torero in Spanish.

[00:04:10] I should say here that although bullfighting is most associated with Spain, and no doubt our Spanish listeners might get cross if it's referred to as anything other than Spanish, it also has deep roots in Portugal, southern France, and in countries across Latin America.

[00:04:27] Anyway, bullfights happen in a circular ring, known as the plaza de toros, and the bull charges towards the bullfighter.

[00:04:36] You might've seen footage before where the bullfighter uses a cape - often red - to control and turn the bull.

[00:04:45] This is where the famous English saying ‘Like a red rag to a bull’ comes from, used to mean something that is certain to produce an angry or violent reaction.

[00:04:56] But that’s actually a myth - bulls don’t charge at the colour red because they, like all cattle, are colour-blind. 

[00:05:04] The colour red was instead adopted because it covers up all the bloody stains the bullfighters get throughout the fight.

[00:05:13] Instead of reacting to the cape, the bulls respond to the movements made by the bullfighter.

[00:05:19] And these aren’t just any bulls.

[00:05:22] Fully grown fighting bulls can weigh up to 1,600 pounds - around 600 or 700 kilograms, the weight of a small car.

[00:05:32] These are no normal bulls, but an especially aggressive type bred for centuries to charge and attack bullfighters in the ring.

[00:05:42] In traditional Spanish bullfighting, there are normally six bulls and three bullfighters, known as matadors.

[00:05:50] Every matador has a small team helping him throughout the fight.

[00:05:54] The picadores perform during the first stage of the fight, known as the tercio de varas, and ride on horseback, weakening the bull and preparing it for the matador.

[00:06:07] The banderilleros support the matador throughout the fight, using their capes to distract and attack the bull while the matador judges the bull’s movements and temperament.

[00:06:19] They also stab banderillas [sharp, dart-like things] into the bull during the second stage of the bullfight - the tercio de banderillas - ahead of the main matador’s entry into the bullring.

[00:06:33] Each matador fights two bulls randomly assigned to them and as the bulls grow more and more tired, and more and more angry, the bullfighter uses his cape to position the bull for the kill.

[00:06:47] He waits for his opportunity, and then, rising up, stabs it between the shoulder blades in a downwards motion aiming for the heart.

[00:06:56] But, unfortunately this dramatic ending doesn’t always kill the bull outright.

[00:07:02] When they aren’t successful, the bullfighters have to use a special knife to sever the spinal cord and instantly put the bull out of its misery.

[00:07:12] So how did such a violent event - sport, torture, art - whatever it is, begin?

[00:07:20] Clearly, and sadly, one could say, human history is littered with instances of humans killing all sorts of animals, and even other humans, in the name of sport and enjoyment.

[00:07:32] And when it comes to fighting bulls in particular, historians are divided over where exactly it comes from.

[00:07:40] What is clear, however, is that the human fascination with bulls goes back a very long time.

[00:07:47] Some might say it goes back to Moorish Spain, the Muslim empire that ruled Spain for around 800 years from the 8th until the late 15th century. 

[00:07:59] Others might point to ancient Mesopotamia or the bull-taunting rituals of mediaeval Spain. 

[00:08:06] Although the image of modern bullfighting that we have today, with the bullring and capes and all the drama, is just a few hundred years old, it is safe to say that human interest in and interaction with bulls descends from a long, complicated mix of different rituals and cultures that goes back thousands of years.

[00:08:26] Archeologists on the Greek island of Crete, for example, discovered ancient paintings of rituals in which people grabbed bulls by the horns dating back to 1500 BC. 

[00:08:39] And you are probably familiar with the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur.

[00:08:45] Performances involving bulls were also common in ancient Rome, and prior to the Punic Wars - a long series of wars between the Romans and Carthaginians between 264 and 146 BC - a people called Celtiberians herded wild bulls into groups and used them as a weapon in war.

[00:09:07] In 228 BC historians believe they gathered a group of snarling bulls, tied them to wagons, set them on fire, and drove the herd towards the Carthiginian army.

[00:09:20] The Moors later developed a similar military strategy of using bull stampedes to attack the enemy.

[00:09:27] And the Romans were also intrigued by rumours of events held in the southern region of Spain now known Andalusia in which men took on a bull and killed it with a sword or axe.

[00:09:40] And as the Iberian Peninsula was invaded and conquered by the Vandals and Visigoths, they too lent their influence to bullfighting.

[00:09:50] And the Moors added to this.

[00:09:52] The Moors were known as great horse riders and breeders, and historians believe they were the first to fight bulls on horseback, which made killing the animals with their swords easier.

[00:10:04] Bullfighting tournaments were sometimes held between the Muslims and Christians, and in many towns they were held in the city squares - known as plazas - and that's where the Spanish name for bullring comes from.

[00:10:18] By the end of the 12th century, these types of public bullfights - often big festive celebrations - were popular across Spain.

[00:10:28] Perhaps the best known is the Fiesta de San Fermín, better known as the Pamplona bull runs.

[00:10:34] Immortalised by Ernest Hemingway in his novel ‘The Sun Also Rises’, the tradition of setting groups of angry bulls loose in the streets of Pamplona began in the 12th century and lives on to this day.

[00:10:48] Pamplona’s running of the bulls is a nine-day public party with lots of food, lots of wine, and plenty of goring - that’s what it’s called when a bull stabs one of the bull runners with its horns.

[00:11:02] Thousands of tourists - brave or foolish, depending on your opinion - travel to Pamplona from across the world to test their nerves and run with the bulls. 

[00:11:12] And some never make the journey home, since 1911, 16 people have been killed.

[00:11:19] But as thrilling as setting a load of angry bulls loose in the street is, it’s not exactly bullfighting.

[00:11:25] It is believed the first Spaniard to kill a bull on horseback in a proper arena was a man named Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, known as El Cid, in the 11th century.

[00:11:39] But this was during the Islamic Empire, and although bullfights were part of public festivities and used in competition between Muslims and Christians, they were not yet established as a distinctly Spanish tradition.

[00:11:54] When the Christians ‘reconquered’ Spain at the end of the 15th century bullfights quickly became the favourite sport of the Spanish aristocracy

[00:12:04] But they weren’t popular with everyone.

[00:12:07] The Queen at the time, Isabella I, hated bullfighting, and in 1567 Pope Pius V banned the sport.

[00:12:16] He even excommunicated Christian nobles who organised bullfights and denied Christian burials to anyone killed fighting a bull.

[00:12:26] Just like today, even 500 years ago bullfighting was a controversial topic.

[00:12:33] But as bullfights became more and more popular, eventually the church dropped the ban

[00:12:39] And around this time, in the 16th century, bullfights became such an integral part of Spanish life and society that special bullfights were held to celebrate holy days.

[00:12:51] Even to this day, the first day of the bullfighting season is still Easter Sunday in many parts of Spain. 

[00:12:59] Later, during the 18th century, the Royal House of Bourbon succeeded the Spanish throne with Philip V and things began to change.

[00:13:08] The Bourbons didn’t really approve of the tradition they had inherited, and the aristocracy slowly began to turn their backs on bullfighting.

[00:13:18] The Spanish general public, however, hadn’t got bored of bullfights yet.

[00:13:23] They wanted more.

[00:13:25] By now bullfights were becoming so popular that the specialist breeding of bulls had become financially profitable, and bulls were bred with specific bullfighting characteristics.

[00:13:38] Spanish bulls were being bred to be bigger, stronger, more likely to be violent, and with bigger horns - anything to make the spectacle more dangerous and exciting for spectators.

[00:13:51] As bullfighting became popular and financially profitable, one of the first professional bullfighters to take advantage of this was a man called Joaquín Rodríguez Costillares, who was born in the Andalusian city of Seville in 1729.

[00:14:09] Costillares is generally given credit for creating the ‘modern’ bullfighting style we know today, especially the luxuriously decorated costumes worn by matators, and the gruesome end to the fights.

[00:14:23] His main rival was a man named Pedro Romero from Ronda, also in Andalusia.

[00:14:31] Romero reportedly killed a staggering 5,600 bulls during his career and he popularised the red cape so synonymous with Spanish bullfighting today. 

[00:14:44] Now, despite both being from the same region of Spain, Andalusia, Costillares and Romero had very different styles.

[00:14:53] From them, the two classic “schools” of Spanish bullfighting were born.

[00:14:59] The Ronda style is noted for its simpler, slower style, whereas the glamorous, flamboyant style that came from Seville is more dramatic and expressive.

[00:15:11] It was around then, at the turn of the 19th century, that the painter Francisco de Goya painted and sketched bullfighting scenes, and bullfights became an interest of not only painters, but poets, novelists and sculptors.

[00:15:28] Goya, Lorca, Botero, Hernandez and other key Spanish artists wrestled with the topic of bullfighting in their work.

[00:15:37] In 1836 Francisco Montes, a famous matador, published a rule book called “Tauromaquia” and then, in 1859, with public demand for bullfighting getting bigger and bigger, the first official ring built to his dimensions was constructed in Valencia.

[00:15:56] A few years later, in 1868, the first bullfight that used modern day bullfighting techniques and rules - namely with 6 bulls and 3 matadors - took place.

[00:16:07] By now bullfighting was so popular that bullfighters were becoming celebrities.

[00:16:13] But they weren’t popular with everyone.

[00:16:16] Far from it.

[00:16:17] Spain’s famous ‘98 Generation’ of philosophers, writers and artists were openly critical of bullfighting’s rise, describing it as reactionary and backward.

[00:16:29] Even then, 100 years ago, anti-bullfighting sentiment was beginning to grow in Spain.

[00:16:35] Now, if you know anything about Spanish history, and particularly if you are one of our Spanish listeners, you will know that the 20th century was a complicated period for Spain.

[00:16:47] After a bitter Civil War between Nationalists and Republicans from 1936 to 1939, General Franco took control of Spain and ruled it as a dictator until his death in 1975.

[00:17:02] As part of his authoritarian regime, Franco was keen to encourage and promote bullfighting as Spain’s ‘fiesta nacional’ and he began tying it to traditional Spanish heritage and identity.

[00:17:17] Using emerging technology, Franco understood the symbolic power of television and being able to project nationalistic ideas of Spanishness into people’s living rooms.

[00:17:29] Hoping to equate Spanish identity with patriotism, more and more bullfights were televised, and by 1961 the Spanish press had credited televised bullfights with reviving bullfighting’s ‘essence as a facet of popular culture.’ 

[00:17:45] Through television, bullfighting grew from a popular but still somewhat niche sport to a national pastime and even a tourist attraction.

[00:17:57] But there were darker undertones to Franco’s use of bullfights.

[00:18:01] Not only were they used to construct a national identity favourable to his regime, but their popularity was also used to suppress political opposition.

[00:18:13] The most famous bullfighter of the 1960’s, a man named Manuel Benítez, admitted that “if a public protest was planned, we’d organise a televised bullfight.”

[00:18:25] But as bullfights grew in popularity, filling not only the bullrings but now bars and living rooms across Spain, bullfighting itself was becoming more controversial and political.

[00:18:38] And as Franco’s popularity waned, as it reduced, opponents of bullfighting often became involved with anti-nationalist politics and resistance, and treated with suspicion.

[00:18:52] Following Franco’s death in 1975 and Spain’s transition to democracy, bullfights remained popular but the anti-bullfighting energy growing in Spain became intertwined into separatist sentiment across the Spanish regions.

[00:19:09] However it was in the late-20th and early 21st century that the anti-bullfighting movement really began to take off.

[00:19:18] Now, as we’ve touched on already in this episode, for all the history and folklore of Spanish bullfighting, there has been an equally long history of opposition to it.

[00:19:30] It’s described as barbarous, animal cruelty, and torture, and opponents of bullfighting go back centuries.

[00:19:37] But it was at the turn of the 21st century that animal welfare and anti-bullfighting groups really gained momentum.

[00:19:46] Famous Spanish celebrities began to speak out.

[00:19:49] And in 1991 bullfighting was even banned on the Canary Islands, but it was never very popular there anyway and the islands hadn’t had a bullfight since the 1970’s.

[00:20:01] Then in April of 2004, the regional government in Barcelona declared itself a ‘city against bullfighting’ and then a few years later, in the summer of 2010, the Catalonian parliament banned it.

[00:20:17] The move was eventually implemented a couple of years later, in 2012, and I probably don’t need to say that this was a big deal.

[00:20:27] Unlike in the Canary Islands, Catalonia had a rich bullfighting history and culture.

[00:20:33] That a place like Barcelona - Spain’s second city and most popular tourist city, no less - banned bullfighting speaks to the changing attitudes in Spanish society.

[00:20:45] But four years later, in 2016, a Spanish constitutional court overturned the ban, deciding that regional governments cannot ban bullfights, although no new bullfights have taken place in the region since.

[00:21:00] In 2017 the regional government on the island of Mallorca also experimented with legislation that could bypass the constitutional courts.

[00:21:10] Though they didn’t ban bullfighting outright, the law stopped bulls being killed or suffering as part of the fight which clearly changes the nature of what a bullfight is.

[00:21:22] And bullfighting has emerged as a political battleground between competing visions of Spain and what it is to be Spanish. 

[00:21:31] When bullfights were eventually reintroduced in Mallorca in 2019, the facist anthem “Cara al Sol” - the national song under Franco - boomed from the bullring and drowned out animal rights protestors in the stadium.

[00:21:47] Now, back to the modern day.

[00:21:50] Like in many parts of the Western world, populist politics have taken over life in Spain.

[00:21:56] You know how it goes - each side picks a battle and makes it a front line of a ‘culture war.’

[00:22:02] In Spain things are no different, and bullfighting has become an integral part of these culture wars.

[00:22:10] For the Spanish left - whether socialist, environmentalist or separatist - bullfighting has become a symbol of the right and a memory of Franco’s facist regime; a relic of history best left behind.

[00:22:24] For the right, any attempt to ban or limit bullfighting is viewed as an assault on Spanish identity and represents an increasingly liberal, secular world.

[00:22:37] Far-right party Vox has made the preservation of bullfighting one of its core political themes, and some famous Spanish bullfighters have openly endorsed the party and run for public office.

[00:22:50] In regions with separatist impulses, like Catalonia, their bullfighting bans form a broader political vision: that they are separate from the rest of Spain and not part of this old-fashioned, traditional image.

[00:23:05] But what about the future?

[00:23:07] Will bullfighting ever be banned in Spain?

[00:23:12] Well, the truth is that it may not even be necessary - bullfighting is, it seems, slowly dying out.

[00:23:21] According to Spain’s Ministry of Culture, between 2007 and 2018, The number of bullfights in the country fell from 3,651 to 1,521.

[00:23:35] In 2018/19 just 8 percent of Spaniards went to a bullfight, and attendance is particularly low among young people.

[00:23:45] If things continue the way they are going - falling attendances, the regions trying to ban or modify bullfights themselves, financial difficulties, and young people losing interest - a nationwide ban might not even be necessary. 

[00:24:00] And, in any case, it seems unlikely that such a ban could ever pass the Spanish parliament.

[00:24:06] But will it ever die out as a cultural tradition?

[00:24:10] Will it ever stop being such a strong symbol of Spanish identity?

[00:24:14] What seems clear is that bullfighting will always live on as a polarising piece of political rhetoric that stirs up memories of civil war and dictatorship long after the last bull takes its last breath.

[00:24:30] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on bullfighting - the bloody, controversial activity that has divided opinion for centuries. 

[00:24:39] As always, and in fact even more than usual because we have so many listeners from Spain, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:24:48] What is your opinion about bullfighting, art form or torture, or somewhere in the middle? 

[00:24:54] What does the future hold for bullfighting, and is that a good or a bad thing?

[00:24:59] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:25:02] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:25:10] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:25:15] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about a controversial but defining part of Spanish culture.

[00:00:30] Bullfighting.

[00:00:31] Some say cultural artform, others say animal cruelty.

[00:00:36] It’s a marker of history, politics, geography and class, a tradition loved by some, and loathed by others. So, in this episode we are going to look at the past, present and future of this controversial activity.

[00:00:51] I should give you a quick warning that this episode does have some descriptions about bullfighting. So if you would rather not listen to that, please stop listening now.

[00:01:02] OK, let’s get right into it and talk about bullfighting.

[00:01:08] Quiet falls over the bullring, an anxious energy filling the stadium.

[00:01:13] A matador stands tall and faces a snarling bull, its head lowered to the floor.

[00:01:20] There are whistles from the crowd.

[00:01:22] Nervous yelps, and intakes of breath.

[00:01:26] Slowly the bull drags a foot through the clay, and then lunges forward with its horns.

[00:01:32] Dusty clouds shoot up into the air.

[00:01:36] The crowd gasps.

[00:01:37] The matador calmly steps aside, leading the beast with his cape.

[00:01:42] It turns and lunges towards him again.

[00:01:46] Stepping aside a second time, the matador takes his chance.

[00:01:50] He rises up, pulls back, and stabs downward at the bull with a sword.

[00:01:55] The arena explodes into cheers, claps and whistles.

[00:02:00] And the bull limps around, its steps unsteady.

[00:02:04] Blood pours down onto the clay, a red trail following it around the ring.

[00:02:09] The cheers grow louder.

[00:02:11] Go on, they scream. Do it.

[00:02:13] The bull collapses to the floor, writhing around in pain.

[00:02:18] Pulling a small blade from his waist, the matador approaches.

[00:02:22] There’s a half-moment of silence.

[00:02:25] He holds the blade high in the air, then plunges it into the top of the bull’s spinal cord.

[00:02:31] A twitching leg slowly comes to a rest and, finally, the bull is dead.

[00:02:37] The crowd rises up in a boom of claps and whistles.

[00:02:42] The matador moves into the middle of the ring, his hands raised in acknowledgement. 

[00:02:47] He thanks them, his costume splattered with blood.

[00:02:50] He bows, and blows kisses, but can’t help but notice that the crowd - although enthusiastic - is not as big as it used to be.

[00:03:00] There are empty seats dotted around the bullring.

[00:03:04] It never used to be like that.

[00:03:05] It certainly wasn’t like that when his father was a bullfighter. 

[00:03:10] As the American novelist and bullfighting fanatic Ernest Hemingway said famously in his 1932 book, Death in the Afternoon: “Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death.”

[00:03:25] But is bullfighting an art?

[00:03:27] Or is it a sport?

[00:03:29] Or is it torture?

[00:03:31] Well, if we take Spain, the country most synonymous with bullfighting, it depends on who you talk to.

[00:03:39] Some would say it is an archaic form of torture, but others would say it’s a form of art or cultural event.

[00:03:48] In fact, even to this day, bullfights are not reported in the sports sections of Spanish newspapers but in the cultural pages.

[00:03:57] So, what do they actually report on?

[00:04:00] Bullfighting is, simply put, a physical competition between a bull and a bullfighter, known as a torero in Spanish.

[00:04:10] I should say here that although bullfighting is most associated with Spain, and no doubt our Spanish listeners might get cross if it's referred to as anything other than Spanish, it also has deep roots in Portugal, southern France, and in countries across Latin America.

[00:04:27] Anyway, bullfights happen in a circular ring, known as the plaza de toros, and the bull charges towards the bullfighter.

[00:04:36] You might've seen footage before where the bullfighter uses a cape - often red - to control and turn the bull.

[00:04:45] This is where the famous English saying ‘Like a red rag to a bull’ comes from, used to mean something that is certain to produce an angry or violent reaction.

[00:04:56] But that’s actually a myth - bulls don’t charge at the colour red because they, like all cattle, are colour-blind. 

[00:05:04] The colour red was instead adopted because it covers up all the bloody stains the bullfighters get throughout the fight.

[00:05:13] Instead of reacting to the cape, the bulls respond to the movements made by the bullfighter.

[00:05:19] And these aren’t just any bulls.

[00:05:22] Fully grown fighting bulls can weigh up to 1,600 pounds - around 600 or 700 kilograms, the weight of a small car.

[00:05:32] These are no normal bulls, but an especially aggressive type bred for centuries to charge and attack bullfighters in the ring.

[00:05:42] In traditional Spanish bullfighting, there are normally six bulls and three bullfighters, known as matadors.

[00:05:50] Every matador has a small team helping him throughout the fight.

[00:05:54] The picadores perform during the first stage of the fight, known as the tercio de varas, and ride on horseback, weakening the bull and preparing it for the matador.

[00:06:07] The banderilleros support the matador throughout the fight, using their capes to distract and attack the bull while the matador judges the bull’s movements and temperament.

[00:06:19] They also stab banderillas [sharp, dart-like things] into the bull during the second stage of the bullfight - the tercio de banderillas - ahead of the main matador’s entry into the bullring.

[00:06:33] Each matador fights two bulls randomly assigned to them and as the bulls grow more and more tired, and more and more angry, the bullfighter uses his cape to position the bull for the kill.

[00:06:47] He waits for his opportunity, and then, rising up, stabs it between the shoulder blades in a downwards motion aiming for the heart.

[00:06:56] But, unfortunately this dramatic ending doesn’t always kill the bull outright.

[00:07:02] When they aren’t successful, the bullfighters have to use a special knife to sever the spinal cord and instantly put the bull out of its misery.

[00:07:12] So how did such a violent event - sport, torture, art - whatever it is, begin?

[00:07:20] Clearly, and sadly, one could say, human history is littered with instances of humans killing all sorts of animals, and even other humans, in the name of sport and enjoyment.

[00:07:32] And when it comes to fighting bulls in particular, historians are divided over where exactly it comes from.

[00:07:40] What is clear, however, is that the human fascination with bulls goes back a very long time.

[00:07:47] Some might say it goes back to Moorish Spain, the Muslim empire that ruled Spain for around 800 years from the 8th until the late 15th century. 

[00:07:59] Others might point to ancient Mesopotamia or the bull-taunting rituals of mediaeval Spain. 

[00:08:06] Although the image of modern bullfighting that we have today, with the bullring and capes and all the drama, is just a few hundred years old, it is safe to say that human interest in and interaction with bulls descends from a long, complicated mix of different rituals and cultures that goes back thousands of years.

[00:08:26] Archeologists on the Greek island of Crete, for example, discovered ancient paintings of rituals in which people grabbed bulls by the horns dating back to 1500 BC. 

[00:08:39] And you are probably familiar with the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur.

[00:08:45] Performances involving bulls were also common in ancient Rome, and prior to the Punic Wars - a long series of wars between the Romans and Carthaginians between 264 and 146 BC - a people called Celtiberians herded wild bulls into groups and used them as a weapon in war.

[00:09:07] In 228 BC historians believe they gathered a group of snarling bulls, tied them to wagons, set them on fire, and drove the herd towards the Carthiginian army.

[00:09:20] The Moors later developed a similar military strategy of using bull stampedes to attack the enemy.

[00:09:27] And the Romans were also intrigued by rumours of events held in the southern region of Spain now known Andalusia in which men took on a bull and killed it with a sword or axe.

[00:09:40] And as the Iberian Peninsula was invaded and conquered by the Vandals and Visigoths, they too lent their influence to bullfighting.

[00:09:50] And the Moors added to this.

[00:09:52] The Moors were known as great horse riders and breeders, and historians believe they were the first to fight bulls on horseback, which made killing the animals with their swords easier.

[00:10:04] Bullfighting tournaments were sometimes held between the Muslims and Christians, and in many towns they were held in the city squares - known as plazas - and that's where the Spanish name for bullring comes from.

[00:10:18] By the end of the 12th century, these types of public bullfights - often big festive celebrations - were popular across Spain.

[00:10:28] Perhaps the best known is the Fiesta de San Fermín, better known as the Pamplona bull runs.

[00:10:34] Immortalised by Ernest Hemingway in his novel ‘The Sun Also Rises’, the tradition of setting groups of angry bulls loose in the streets of Pamplona began in the 12th century and lives on to this day.

[00:10:48] Pamplona’s running of the bulls is a nine-day public party with lots of food, lots of wine, and plenty of goring - that’s what it’s called when a bull stabs one of the bull runners with its horns.

[00:11:02] Thousands of tourists - brave or foolish, depending on your opinion - travel to Pamplona from across the world to test their nerves and run with the bulls. 

[00:11:12] And some never make the journey home, since 1911, 16 people have been killed.

[00:11:19] But as thrilling as setting a load of angry bulls loose in the street is, it’s not exactly bullfighting.

[00:11:25] It is believed the first Spaniard to kill a bull on horseback in a proper arena was a man named Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, known as El Cid, in the 11th century.

[00:11:39] But this was during the Islamic Empire, and although bullfights were part of public festivities and used in competition between Muslims and Christians, they were not yet established as a distinctly Spanish tradition.

[00:11:54] When the Christians ‘reconquered’ Spain at the end of the 15th century bullfights quickly became the favourite sport of the Spanish aristocracy

[00:12:04] But they weren’t popular with everyone.

[00:12:07] The Queen at the time, Isabella I, hated bullfighting, and in 1567 Pope Pius V banned the sport.

[00:12:16] He even excommunicated Christian nobles who organised bullfights and denied Christian burials to anyone killed fighting a bull.

[00:12:26] Just like today, even 500 years ago bullfighting was a controversial topic.

[00:12:33] But as bullfights became more and more popular, eventually the church dropped the ban

[00:12:39] And around this time, in the 16th century, bullfights became such an integral part of Spanish life and society that special bullfights were held to celebrate holy days.

[00:12:51] Even to this day, the first day of the bullfighting season is still Easter Sunday in many parts of Spain. 

[00:12:59] Later, during the 18th century, the Royal House of Bourbon succeeded the Spanish throne with Philip V and things began to change.

[00:13:08] The Bourbons didn’t really approve of the tradition they had inherited, and the aristocracy slowly began to turn their backs on bullfighting.

[00:13:18] The Spanish general public, however, hadn’t got bored of bullfights yet.

[00:13:23] They wanted more.

[00:13:25] By now bullfights were becoming so popular that the specialist breeding of bulls had become financially profitable, and bulls were bred with specific bullfighting characteristics.

[00:13:38] Spanish bulls were being bred to be bigger, stronger, more likely to be violent, and with bigger horns - anything to make the spectacle more dangerous and exciting for spectators.

[00:13:51] As bullfighting became popular and financially profitable, one of the first professional bullfighters to take advantage of this was a man called Joaquín Rodríguez Costillares, who was born in the Andalusian city of Seville in 1729.

[00:14:09] Costillares is generally given credit for creating the ‘modern’ bullfighting style we know today, especially the luxuriously decorated costumes worn by matators, and the gruesome end to the fights.

[00:14:23] His main rival was a man named Pedro Romero from Ronda, also in Andalusia.

[00:14:31] Romero reportedly killed a staggering 5,600 bulls during his career and he popularised the red cape so synonymous with Spanish bullfighting today. 

[00:14:44] Now, despite both being from the same region of Spain, Andalusia, Costillares and Romero had very different styles.

[00:14:53] From them, the two classic “schools” of Spanish bullfighting were born.

[00:14:59] The Ronda style is noted for its simpler, slower style, whereas the glamorous, flamboyant style that came from Seville is more dramatic and expressive.

[00:15:11] It was around then, at the turn of the 19th century, that the painter Francisco de Goya painted and sketched bullfighting scenes, and bullfights became an interest of not only painters, but poets, novelists and sculptors.

[00:15:28] Goya, Lorca, Botero, Hernandez and other key Spanish artists wrestled with the topic of bullfighting in their work.

[00:15:37] In 1836 Francisco Montes, a famous matador, published a rule book called “Tauromaquia” and then, in 1859, with public demand for bullfighting getting bigger and bigger, the first official ring built to his dimensions was constructed in Valencia.

[00:15:56] A few years later, in 1868, the first bullfight that used modern day bullfighting techniques and rules - namely with 6 bulls and 3 matadors - took place.

[00:16:07] By now bullfighting was so popular that bullfighters were becoming celebrities.

[00:16:13] But they weren’t popular with everyone.

[00:16:16] Far from it.

[00:16:17] Spain’s famous ‘98 Generation’ of philosophers, writers and artists were openly critical of bullfighting’s rise, describing it as reactionary and backward.

[00:16:29] Even then, 100 years ago, anti-bullfighting sentiment was beginning to grow in Spain.

[00:16:35] Now, if you know anything about Spanish history, and particularly if you are one of our Spanish listeners, you will know that the 20th century was a complicated period for Spain.

[00:16:47] After a bitter Civil War between Nationalists and Republicans from 1936 to 1939, General Franco took control of Spain and ruled it as a dictator until his death in 1975.

[00:17:02] As part of his authoritarian regime, Franco was keen to encourage and promote bullfighting as Spain’s ‘fiesta nacional’ and he began tying it to traditional Spanish heritage and identity.

[00:17:17] Using emerging technology, Franco understood the symbolic power of television and being able to project nationalistic ideas of Spanishness into people’s living rooms.

[00:17:29] Hoping to equate Spanish identity with patriotism, more and more bullfights were televised, and by 1961 the Spanish press had credited televised bullfights with reviving bullfighting’s ‘essence as a facet of popular culture.’ 

[00:17:45] Through television, bullfighting grew from a popular but still somewhat niche sport to a national pastime and even a tourist attraction.

[00:17:57] But there were darker undertones to Franco’s use of bullfights.

[00:18:01] Not only were they used to construct a national identity favourable to his regime, but their popularity was also used to suppress political opposition.

[00:18:13] The most famous bullfighter of the 1960’s, a man named Manuel Benítez, admitted that “if a public protest was planned, we’d organise a televised bullfight.”

[00:18:25] But as bullfights grew in popularity, filling not only the bullrings but now bars and living rooms across Spain, bullfighting itself was becoming more controversial and political.

[00:18:38] And as Franco’s popularity waned, as it reduced, opponents of bullfighting often became involved with anti-nationalist politics and resistance, and treated with suspicion.

[00:18:52] Following Franco’s death in 1975 and Spain’s transition to democracy, bullfights remained popular but the anti-bullfighting energy growing in Spain became intertwined into separatist sentiment across the Spanish regions.

[00:19:09] However it was in the late-20th and early 21st century that the anti-bullfighting movement really began to take off.

[00:19:18] Now, as we’ve touched on already in this episode, for all the history and folklore of Spanish bullfighting, there has been an equally long history of opposition to it.

[00:19:30] It’s described as barbarous, animal cruelty, and torture, and opponents of bullfighting go back centuries.

[00:19:37] But it was at the turn of the 21st century that animal welfare and anti-bullfighting groups really gained momentum.

[00:19:46] Famous Spanish celebrities began to speak out.

[00:19:49] And in 1991 bullfighting was even banned on the Canary Islands, but it was never very popular there anyway and the islands hadn’t had a bullfight since the 1970’s.

[00:20:01] Then in April of 2004, the regional government in Barcelona declared itself a ‘city against bullfighting’ and then a few years later, in the summer of 2010, the Catalonian parliament banned it.

[00:20:17] The move was eventually implemented a couple of years later, in 2012, and I probably don’t need to say that this was a big deal.

[00:20:27] Unlike in the Canary Islands, Catalonia had a rich bullfighting history and culture.

[00:20:33] That a place like Barcelona - Spain’s second city and most popular tourist city, no less - banned bullfighting speaks to the changing attitudes in Spanish society.

[00:20:45] But four years later, in 2016, a Spanish constitutional court overturned the ban, deciding that regional governments cannot ban bullfights, although no new bullfights have taken place in the region since.

[00:21:00] In 2017 the regional government on the island of Mallorca also experimented with legislation that could bypass the constitutional courts.

[00:21:10] Though they didn’t ban bullfighting outright, the law stopped bulls being killed or suffering as part of the fight which clearly changes the nature of what a bullfight is.

[00:21:22] And bullfighting has emerged as a political battleground between competing visions of Spain and what it is to be Spanish. 

[00:21:31] When bullfights were eventually reintroduced in Mallorca in 2019, the facist anthem “Cara al Sol” - the national song under Franco - boomed from the bullring and drowned out animal rights protestors in the stadium.

[00:21:47] Now, back to the modern day.

[00:21:50] Like in many parts of the Western world, populist politics have taken over life in Spain.

[00:21:56] You know how it goes - each side picks a battle and makes it a front line of a ‘culture war.’

[00:22:02] In Spain things are no different, and bullfighting has become an integral part of these culture wars.

[00:22:10] For the Spanish left - whether socialist, environmentalist or separatist - bullfighting has become a symbol of the right and a memory of Franco’s facist regime; a relic of history best left behind.

[00:22:24] For the right, any attempt to ban or limit bullfighting is viewed as an assault on Spanish identity and represents an increasingly liberal, secular world.

[00:22:37] Far-right party Vox has made the preservation of bullfighting one of its core political themes, and some famous Spanish bullfighters have openly endorsed the party and run for public office.

[00:22:50] In regions with separatist impulses, like Catalonia, their bullfighting bans form a broader political vision: that they are separate from the rest of Spain and not part of this old-fashioned, traditional image.

[00:23:05] But what about the future?

[00:23:07] Will bullfighting ever be banned in Spain?

[00:23:12] Well, the truth is that it may not even be necessary - bullfighting is, it seems, slowly dying out.

[00:23:21] According to Spain’s Ministry of Culture, between 2007 and 2018, The number of bullfights in the country fell from 3,651 to 1,521.

[00:23:35] In 2018/19 just 8 percent of Spaniards went to a bullfight, and attendance is particularly low among young people.

[00:23:45] If things continue the way they are going - falling attendances, the regions trying to ban or modify bullfights themselves, financial difficulties, and young people losing interest - a nationwide ban might not even be necessary. 

[00:24:00] And, in any case, it seems unlikely that such a ban could ever pass the Spanish parliament.

[00:24:06] But will it ever die out as a cultural tradition?

[00:24:10] Will it ever stop being such a strong symbol of Spanish identity?

[00:24:14] What seems clear is that bullfighting will always live on as a polarising piece of political rhetoric that stirs up memories of civil war and dictatorship long after the last bull takes its last breath.

[00:24:30] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on bullfighting - the bloody, controversial activity that has divided opinion for centuries. 

[00:24:39] As always, and in fact even more than usual because we have so many listeners from Spain, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:24:48] What is your opinion about bullfighting, art form or torture, or somewhere in the middle? 

[00:24:54] What does the future hold for bullfighting, and is that a good or a bad thing?

[00:24:59] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:25:02] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:25:10] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:25:15] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

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