Bullfighting in Spain is almost as equally popular as it is controversial. Spanish bullfights are ingrained in the country’s history and such a deep part of Spanish culture that it’s evident why so many tourists add seeing a bullfight to their list of things to do. Though bullfights were first seen in ancient Rome, bullfighting in Spain dates back to early 700 AD. The history of bullfights in Spain is very closely associated with Spain’s aristocracy, when fights would be arranged for such events as a king’s crowning. Today, the Spanish people are just as eager to see bullfights as they were centuries ago demonstrated through thousands of Spaniards heading to the rings in droves every single week.
From ancient Rome, bullfighting evolved, flourishing under the influence of the Moors, who originated from northern Africa. It was the Moors who occupied Andalucia in the early 700s and made bullfighting into a ceremonial event. Bullfighting happened simultaneously with the Moors Feast Days. The fights were carried out on horseback and the Moors played to kill and win.
The history of bullfights in Spain does illustrate some obvious differences in how the sport was performed. Originally bullfighting in Spain was played on horseback just like the Romans and the Moors, and was for the noble class only. The history of bullfighting in Spain took a paramount turn when it was banned by King Felipe V, who thought it to bring a negative reputation to he and his people. By this time, bullfighting was such an essential part of Spanish life that the citizens of Spain continued the tradition, embracing it as a sport of the common people.
Today, Spanish bullfights are portrayed through Spanish art and the history of Spain, completely infusing everyday life with images of Matadors and bulls and shouts and cheers from bullfighting rings all around Spain, from Bilbao to Malaga. It is considered one of the most customary of all fiestas. In modern day Spain, the king stands strongly behind the sport. Just as any great party, Spanish bullfights are grand events in which dining is an essential part of a night out. Evening bullfights are also a large part of popular Spain night life. The streets teem with tourists and locals heading into a ring to see the best matadors challenge the most frightful bulls. The atmosphere is charged and passionate, and can only be compared to the scene at a local football match, which the Spanish take very seriously.
The quintessential Spanish vacation involves sipping on perfectly blended sangria (with ingredients originating from the best Spanish wineries), devouring delicious tapas, and watching the country’s famed flamenco dancing. It also involves bullfighting in Spain. It matters little where you are as bullfighting can be seen in almost every nook and cranny of Spain. If there’s a city, there’s a place to find a bullfight. In Madrid, bullfighting is extremely popular and there are many places to watch a fight. The 20,000-seat Las Ventas stadium is where the main fights happen. Vista Alegre, although not as well situated, is another common spot to see bullfights in Spain. In Barcelona, bullfighting reigns yet two of the three main bullfighting rings are no longer in use. Plaza de Toros Monumental is the only place to watch a bullfight in Barcelona and is quite popular, even though the government banned the sport in 2004 and then reversed the ruling in recent years.
The Running of the Bulls, or San Fermin festival in Pamplona, is a popular time to see bullfighting in Spain. This thirteenth-century festival, which was once a low-key occasion, is an important part of the history of bullfights in Spain. There are about twenty major festivals featuring bullfighting including the Fallas festival in Valencia, Easter weekend in Seville, and Las Hogueras de San Juan in Alicante. Though bullfights can be seen year-round, the season is technically from April through September in Malaga where the Plaza de Malagueta, close to Old Town, is the bullfighting auditorium. August is the peak of the season and head-to-head battles happen daily. An authentic bullfighting experience is an feat yet throughout Basque Country, note that fights happen less frequently.