Bullfighting in Barcelona. Culture or Cruelty?

by : Gaizka Pujana

Whilst you're unlikely to find any public objection to attending a flamenco show or admiring Gaudi's architecture, you may find yourself the subject of criticism if you attend a bullfight.

Without a doubt, the bullfighting industry in Spain is one of the most controversial. Fans of the sport and animal rights activists continue to clash over the legitimacy of it as a sport against the welfare of the animals that participate.

Supporters of the sport argue that bullfighting is an art, with deep cultural roots in Spanish history that should be preserved in support of Spanish tradition. Those opposed to bullfights argue that the sport is cruel, and that tormenting an angry bull and subjecting it to physical torture is a violation of animal rights and should be outlawed as a barbaric tradition.

Barcelona is one of three Spanish cities that still stages bullfights, along with Madrid and Seville, mainly between April and September. Whilst the city used to be home to three separate bull fighting arenas, today only one is still in operation: El Placa del Toros, Monumental, which was built in 1914.

In April 2004, a petition was lodged with the city council in Barcelona, with more than 250,000 signatures protesting against the sport as a cruel and barbaric act. The deputy mayor, Jordi Portabella was also in support of the ban saying "The capital of Catalonia, Barcelona, must act like a capital and be a pioneer in the abolition of bullfighting".

To some extent, the petition was a success. The city declared itself an 'anti bullfighting city' and children under the age of 14 were prohibited from attending, but the fights themselves did not stop.

Animal cruelty isn't the only argument to be raised against bullfighting. In Barcelona, local Catalan residents also argue that the reason the sport should be outlawed is that it is a 'Spanish' tradition, not a Catalan one, and the capital city of Catalonia should not support a traditionally Spanish pastime.

About 100 bulls are killed in Barcelona each year. A bullfight, or "corrida de toros" is a three part process, with each segment signalled by a horn. In the first round, two Picadores enter the arena on horseback. The horses are blindfolded, and risk suffering from serious wounds if the bull catches up with them. The object of the Picadores is to stab the bull in the neck, causing blood loss and weakening the angry bull.

In the second stage, two Banderilleros enter the arena on foot, with the objective of piercing the strong flanks of the bull with sharp barbs known as banderillos.

Finally, the matador, the human star of the show enters with a muleta (cape), with the objective of staying out of the way of the bulls horns through a series of swift maneuvers, twirling the cape in a sort of dance. Finally, the matador will attempt to kill the bull by stabbing it between its shoulder blades, where the heart is. If he misses, he has to retrieve the sword and try again.

The death of the bull is rarely swift and it often takes several stabbing attempts before the killing blow is struck. Sometimes the bull is too greatly weakened by blood loss and injury to put up much of a fight, making it's death somewhat swifter, although less thrilling for the crowd.

Although spectator numbers at bullfights are on the decline, there still appears to be a market for curious tourists and passionate Spaniards keeping the industry alive, but recent reports in the local press indicate that due to financial difficulties, Bala, the company with the current lease to Monumental Plaza, will be forced to close operations by as soon as 2008.

If that happens, it would be difficult, if not impossible to resurrect the sport in Barcelona, since the building of bullrings has since been ruled out by the council. In the meantime, the future of Monumental remains uncertain. Talks are being held and heavily supported by Deputy Mayor Portabello, to turn the historic building into an open air flea market. No deal has been signed yet, but local support could see the venue become a more peaceful place for tourists and locals to enjoy, regardless of their stance on the issue.