The bullfights in Madrid happen throughout the warmer months. Festival season (from around May) sees bullfights every day, where the remainder of the summer they are weekly events.
The Bullfights in Spain are very much a cultural event. Attendance ranges from young couples and family, to the older sections of the population. It can be date night, and escape, or a place for a gathering of old friends.
An evening at the Bullring is a formal affair. The locals dress for the occasion. If you rush back to your hotel and drag the best clothes out of your backpack, as I did, you will find yourself underdressed. Fear not, the local may look at you funny, but they accept you nevertheless.
The Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas, known locally as Las Ventas, is located in the northeastern section of Madrid’s city center. Inaugurated in June, 1931, it is the heart of bullfighting in Madrid. A large, open air venue, it has a capacity of almost 24,000 people.
Consuming all of Plaza 1, it’s a purpose built facility. The venue is serviced by both the local bus routes and the metro system. A metro stop at the plaza provides direct access to the Bullring.
The Bullring has a free flowing feel and numerous access points. There is no real need to arrive in advance to get to your seat. People show up continuously, throughout the experience. The venue empties just as effortlessly.
Getting Your Tickets
There are several different online sites that provide tickets to the various bullfights. The venue also has an online sales portal available.
If you’re in Madrid, I recommend going straight to the box office at the venue. There are different ticket prices and options, and the people at the box office can give you current information. The tickets for the evening I was there ranged from $20.00 to the mid $200.00s. My ticket ended up costing $42.00.
Spanish is the language of the staff, so if you don’t speak Spanish it gets a little more complicated. Don’t let that trouble you though. Getting tickets ends up being the same as getting dinner or anything else. You smile and go slowly, it’ll work itself out.
My evening’s program consisted of three matadors. Each matador fight three bulls, resulting in nine actual bullfights.
Much like baseball in the US, or Formula 1 in Europe, the bullfights do come with a program. It gives general information and statistics about each matador, and the statistics of each bull. The program is written in Spanish, but can also just be a nice event souvenir.
A General Idea Of What’s Coming
while the initial crowds are taking their seats, the grounds crew set down the caulk lines in the ring floor and finishes general sand grooming.
The evening’s affairs then start with a entrance procession. All of the matadors, horsemen, and extra all come out and are greeted by the crowd in a parade of individuals.
After the entrance procession is complete, everyone takes their places and readies themselves. The first matador Of the evening will stride to the center of the Bullring and present himself to the crowd. The matador’s charismatic showmanship and bravado is greeted by applause from the crowd. When applause are complete, the first bull of the evening is released into the Bullring and the bullfights begin.
With three main matadors and three rounds of bulls to be fought, the bullfights go into the dark of the evening hours. Starting (pretty promptly) at 7pm, my evening at the bullfights concluded about 9:30pm.
What To Expect
Blood. Blood in the sand is what you should expect. Lots of blood.
After the bull gets run around the ring by the assistant matadors to get its adrenaline up, the bull is then engaged by two armored horsemen who spear the bull with hardwood long-handled spears. Once speared by the horsemen, a series of small spears from the matador are used to really get the bull’s blood flowing. After a sufficient amount of time, the lead matador skewers the bull with a sword sunk hilt-deep into the bull’s neck.
It should be noted that if the matador misses sinking the sword on the first try or produces a shot to the bull causing excessive pain to the animal, it is met by the crowds with rejecting howls and shouts. The crowds aren’t there to see the bull suffer needlessly due to an unprofessional matador.
Sword in place, the bull is allowed to thrash about until the blood loss topples him. Once he is deemed to be no longer able to attack, another man approaches the bull and give it a coup de grace by cutting the animal’s throat.
Once dispatched, a team of horses comes out and drags the dead bull out of the Bullring. A grounds crew comes in next and rakes the sand to cover the blood and make the ring ready for the next fight. Sometimes, the blood cleanup can take time. There can be a lot of blood.
I’ll start this by saying that I don’t have a gentle heart. Whether it’s human, animal, or oak tree, if it needs killing then kill it. However, if it doesn’t, then you should probably just let it be. (You’ll usually just make it mad.)
I understand the draw of the bullfights. It’s the draw of any pugilistic sport. The application of man against an oppositional force. That being said, if you aren’t accustom to the impact of such events, you’ll find it off-putting. I’m comfortable with combative sports, as most westerners are, and still found it to be excessive. After about the 4th bullfight, I was out rightly rooting for the bull.
The structure of the event overwhelmingly tilts the odds in favor of the matador. The bull stands little chance in being the victor. The best it can hope for is to kill the matador before it’s dispatched.
It’s a natural leap for how a society can slowly transition from the spectacle of the bullfights to the wonder of the colosseum. Even the events of the Roman Colosseum started with animal fights. I’m not equalizing the two. I’m just saying that I can see how you could go from one to the next.
The Bullring is a centerpiece of life in Madrid. It is something that, I think, should be experienced to appreciate all that is Madrid. You are going to have difficulty finding a similar experience in today’s society. I say, go do it. But don’t go into it with preconceived ideas. That will do it, and the people of Madrid, an injustice.
Leave your western notions behind, go have an experience like no other. The most important thing about traveling is to be granted the opportunity to form your own opinions based upon actual experiences, not what someone else told you to believe.
Now, go. Go have new experiences. Expand your boundaries.