Bull Fight in Pamplona (warning: graphic images)

Bull Fight Arena

Bull fights can be a pretty controversial topic so I was reluctant to post any photos from the fight we went to in Pamplona, Spain.  However, these bull fights are part of the Spanish cultural and an an integral part of the San Fermin festival.  As a traveller I believe it’s important to understand the cultural you are visiting and a bull fight is of it.  I’m not going to go into whether it’s right or wrong because I haven’t made up my mind on topic.  I also don’t think it’s my place to say whether it’s right or wrong since I’m not Spanish.  What I will say is that I was surprised by some of the things I saw.  Some of my preconceptions about bull fights were slightly off.

I was surprised to see that when the Matador and the bull have a rhythm together it looks very elegant.

I was surprised that less than 1% of the spectators were foreigners.  One of the main arguments against bull fights is that its only done for foreign tourists but what I witnessed was mainly Spanish spectators.

I knew the fight was going to be gory but seeing it in person is really shocking.

I was surprised by the ceremony surrounding the event.  This wasn’t just about slaughtering a bull.  There is a lot of history and ceremony surrounding the event.

I’m glad we went but once was enough.  I will not likely be attending a bull fight anytime soon.

Here is a short video with clips and photos from the bull fight.

More pictures and an explanation of how a bull fight works after the break.

Warning: graphic images after the break…

Picadores lances bull

After they let the bull out the matadors tire the bull by leading it around the ring several times.  Once the bull starts to look tired the Picadores comes out on horseback.  The Picadores rides a heavily padded horse and carries a lance.  The lance is used to draw first blood and damage it’s muscle that is used to hold its head up.  The force the bull hits the horse is incredible.  The training the horses must receive to not panic in this situation is impressive.

Banderilleros planting the "flag" in the bull

Next the Banderilleros come out and plant 2 shark sticks into the bull.  3 Banderilleros each plant 2 flags into the bull.  The end of the sticks have a very sharp barb on it so it further weakens the bull by drawing more blood.

Matador "dancing" with the bull... called the faena.

The final stage of the fight is what everyone associates with bull fighting.  This is when the Matador enters the ring by himself with the bull.  He only carries a red cape and a sword.  He uses the cap to attract the bull and they “dance” back and forth.  He keeps doing this until the bull gets to an exhausted state.

Matador preparing for the final blow

He then prepares to use his sword for one final pass.  With this final pass he places his sword between the shoulders of the bull.  The best Matadors get the sword into the bull all the way down to the hilt of the sword.

Finishing the bull

Sometimes the Matador doesn’t do a good job and the bull is still alive but not able to get up and continue to fight.  In that case another person comes out and uses a small knife to seemingly cut the brain stem of the bull.  This kills the bull.

Taking the bull from the arena

A team of ornate horses then comes out to drag the bull out of the arena.

When the matador does a particularly good job the mayor presiding over the fight can award the matador one or both of the bulls ears.  In this case, the matador received both ears (represented by the two white flags laying over the table).

Mayor signals the matador to receive both ears

Matador receives both ears

Matador receives standing ovation for the best show of the day

While the bull never wins it sometimes makes sure the Matador will never enter the ring again.  We watched such an unfortunate event unfold during the bull fight.  I didn’t see the first time the bull gored the Matador in the groin but as you can see he tried to tape it up and continue on.  Seems like he didn’t tape it up that well.

Sometimes the bull wins. What is hanging from his pants?

Several minutes later the bull took him out again… this time for good.  The bulls horn went completely through his thigh.

Gored in the leg

They quickly carried him off the field before another Matador stepped in to finish the fight.  Even when the bull wins… it doesn’t win.

Matador carried off the field after being bored in the leg

This was definitely a memorable cultural experience.  We are glad we went.  I’d recommend others to go if they have a chance.  But we won’t be going again anytime soon.  It’s one of the things that seeing once is enough.

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