Madrid 2


MADRID 2 - the Mecca of  bullfighting

by Biswajit Sengupta


Image of Spain gravitates around football, bullfights, and flamenco. On the Iberian Peninsula and in Latin America football remain the most popular spectator sport, followed by bullfighting even despite movements by some sections to ban it. Although the largest bullfighting ring is in Mexico followed by the one in Venezuela, Madrid is regarded as the Mecca of bullfighting because of its tradition. During the early part of the twentieth century, bullfighting had picked up tremendous momentum in Madrid. In order to accommodate more spectators, a monumental bullring was built. Las Ventas bullring with a capacity of around twenty-five thousand spectators has an imposing façade – the largest in Spain and third largest in the world. From Sol Seville, Las Ventas is around ten minutes commute by underground metro from Sevilla station. Trains to Cuatro Camina las Rosas stop at Ventas. The famous bullring is just atop the exit Plaza de Toros. A lovely, breezy plaza interspersed with statues of matadors, bullfights, and bulls. The stadium located on the plaza is a charming red building, architecturally attractive because of Moorish adornment and design. The only disappointment was that I missed watching a bullfight by a few days as the season normally runs up to the end of October. But it was amply compensated by an exciting and informative tour inside the amphitheater. My wife, who is against any kind of sports involving cruelty on animals, did not join me on the audio tour. When I walked into the circular corridor of the stadium with my audio guide, it was like an exciting recce of events totally unknown to me.  The spectacle opens with a bull ring march (Paso Doble). Paso Doble is an attractive two-step dance form and many paso dobles have been composed in the honor of matadors. Paso Doble is played throughout the opening procession ( ‘paseo’ in Spanish) before the start of the bullfight. Most popular being a mix of Spanish Gypsy Dance/En “Er” Mundo/Espana Cani/Morante de la Puebla.


PLAZA DE LAS VENTAS - paso doble composed on the famous De Las Ventas Bullring in Madrid

 

Paso doble: Puerta Grande. Banda de Música de Las Ventas. 19-Mayo-2012

 Bullfighting dates back as far as the Roman era. It started evoking interest as a major public sporting spectacle after Muslims from neighboring Africa (the Moors) overran Andalusia in the early eighth century. Moors were great horsemen, which made them start bull lancing tournaments from horsebacks. The combats were held in open areas such as city squares, plazas, or even open fields outside a town. Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (known as El Cid because of his military prowess), a legendary knight was perhaps the first horseman to have lanced a bull in an enclosed arena in the eleventh century. El Cid means ‘the lord’ or ‘the master’ in Spanish Arabic. After the Moors were driven out by the Christian rulers in the sixteenth century, Queen Isabella strongly opposed bullfight, and Pope Pius V imposed an outright ban on sports. But due to the growing popularity of corridas, sports had become a routine part of Spanish life. Bull fighting-related fiestas were looked upon as community events in Spain. These considerations compelled the church to lift the ban. Nowadays bullfighting is in three stages. It starts with picadors who lance the bull from horseback, followed by foot assistants known as banderilleros, and finally the matadors on foot who work the bull and eventually kill it. While walking with the audio guide in the empty corridors of the stadium, I was in a trancelike state of mind, trying to visualize the acts. So much so that it did not allow me to think before stepping into a virtual corrida cubicle.  I was handed over a crimson muleta to make passes on a virtual bull whose movement was controlled by the operator. After a few successful passes, I was caught in a shuddery moment when on looking behind me I saw the fierce reddish eyes of the bull fixated at me. So sudden was the fear impact that the muleta dropped out of my hand involuntarily. As the real corrida spectacle was over only a few days back, intensive repair work was going on at the arena. As I stood watching the amphitheater, the bullpen (gate of the toril), and the ring reminded me of hypogeums and the arena in Colosseum where gladiator fights were held. With my audio guide on I could visualize the opening procession, the beginning of a tournament as the toril gate is opened to allow the bull to rush out to a glaring afternoon from a dark pen followed by the opening capework, lancing by the picadors, the flashy and graceful passes with a large cape, the placing of the banderillos and finally the dangerous passes performed by the matador with a muleta before making the kill. Somewhat similar to the fate of a lost gladiator, a bull performing bravely may be pardoned by the President if the crowd waves white handkerchiefs. Amid sneers and scoffs from large sections of ‘animal cruelty’ activists, the corridas have continued for years. Today the entire spectacle is like a graceful ballet. A matador is like a highly skilled artist. Wearing a ‘traje de lucas’ or a suit of lights like a short jacket, a waistcoat, knee-length skin-tight trousers of silk or satin richly beaded and embroidered in gold or silver, pink silk stockings, flat heelless black slippers and a ‘Montera’(a knobbed hat), he fights the ferocious bull from a dangerously close distance.  Even a minuscule mistake can lead to a matador’s death. That is why this artistic spectacle is often referred to as ‘dance with death'. Since the early nineteenth century, the spectacle has been swooned by painters, musicians, writers, filmmakers. Francesco Goya and Picasso recorded the spectacle artistically. Goya, who was an amateur torero himself, painted a fight in Ventas bull ring. Then there are books like ‘Blood & Sand’ by Vicente Blasco Ibanez, ‘Death in the Afternoon', ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ and ‘The Dangerous Summer’ (all by Ernest Hemingway).

In fact, the entire enchanting act lasts for about twenty minutes or so. It is like a highly intricate ballet movement culminating in a gory finish. The toughest capework in a corrida is the dangerous passes with the muleta before a kill. Las Ventas amphitheater has an aesthetically designed ‘Royal Box’ is used for seating the President of the corrida. Exiting through underneath the gallery and the Royal Box leads to an infirmary well set up with operating and surgical equipment including surgical tables for attending grievous injuries caused by goring. Out in the open, the backyard holds a small chapel where the matadors and picadors pray before entering the arena for a fight. Adjacent to it is a museum that showcases the legendary matadors, both male and female, like Mariel Atierzar, Manuel Rodriguez, Pete Pastrana, Pale Camina, and Fransisco Camina Sanchez. The exhibits and displays also include some famous bulls, matadors’ colorful embroidered attires, swords and lances, capes, and muletas. It is known that any cattle is color blind. The capes and muletas are red so that the color helps in camouflaging the blood-spattered during the bout.

During this visit, I was not able to watch a real bullfight though, but an audio tour in the famous bullring amply compensated for the missed opportunity. So famous is the bullring that a Paso doble called ‘Plaza de las Ventas’, composed by Maestro Manuel Lillo is dedicated to this arena.

plaza ventas


stadium
Las Ventas Madrid

stadium


plaza ventas


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Facade of Las Ventas Bullring


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List of legendary matadors who performed at Ventas stadium 



bullring
Inside Ventas stadium

bullring


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Spanish bull exclusively reared and bred for bullfights


museum


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The ceremonial outfit called traje de luces or 'suit of lights' worn by matadors is designed to embrace the anatomy in such a way so as to provide safe and free movements during the performance. The above display details the costume vis-a-vis the anatomy of a human being.

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The infirmary at the stadium is well equipped to perform treatment and operations for goring injuries suffered during a fight

The most convenient way to reach Las Ventas⇩

For tourists, taking a metro from Sol Seville station is the best option. Sol is the heart of Madrid, where most of the sightseeing sites are located. Sol station is located right at the Puerta del Sol square. It happens to be the most central station on the metro and is on Line 1, Line 2, and Line 3 of the Madrid Metro (Zone A). Ventas station is on Line 2 and Line 5 of the Madrid Metro.



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