Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Bullfighting Around Spain

Bullfighting has benefited enormously from tourist curiosity. The number of events, for example, held in the province of Málaga in 1999 was second only to Madrid: 40 bullfights were held last year in Benalmádena, 33 in Marbella and Puerto Banús, and 22 in Mijas, extraordinary figures when you compare their populations with those of traditional centres such as Seville, Bilbao and Valencia. The impresarios, knowing that their clients are undemanding, make easy money combining high prices, unexciting bulls and inexperienced bullfighters.

Seville has a highly discerning audience and has produced an extraordinarly high number of great bullfighters including José Gómez 'Joselito' and Juan Belmonte. The bullring of Sevilla is spectacular - small, but well proportioned and colourful. Audiences have the reputation of being over-tolerant of local talent and cold towards any outsiders.

Bilbao organizes a major festival of around seven bullfights on consecutive days during the third week of August, the so-called Semana Grande. Here, the audience prides itself on being interested more in the bull than in the bullfighter. The weights, physical appearance and horn formations of bulls in Bilbao are more spectacular than those in Seville. Though Bilbao may hold a handful of bullfights each year, the major critics all attend the Semana Grande.

A minor bullfighting renaissance is underway in Barcelona after a decline in the seventies and eighties saw one of the city's two bullrings fall into complete disrepair. The other ring - La Monumental - slipped into offering modest programmes for tourists. However, careful management of the ring by the Balañá family in recent years has paid dividends and Barcelona is beginning once again to show bullfights of real quality. Star performers like Francisco Rivera Ordóñez, José Tomás and El Juli have turned in spectacular performances here.

There are also 'first category' bullrings in Valencia, Zaragoza and San Sebastián where bulls must all be above the same minimum weight as in Madrid, Seville and Barcelona (460kgs). Valencia holds two major fairs each year, one of about seven bullfights around the Day of St José (March 19) and during the Fallas, and another in late July, around the day of Santiago (July 25).

Although Zaragoza's principal fair is in October around the day of the Virgin of the Pilar, the new management team in Zaragoza led by Frenchman Simón Casas has begun to design major events outside fair-time. After 28 years of inactivity, San Sebastián recently opened a new bullring in the suburbs.

Other cities such as Córdoba, Jaén, Almería, Albacete, Valladolid, Alicante, Castellón and Logroño are all important centres of bullfighting, as are smaller towns such as Jerez de la Frontera, Puerto de Santa María and Ronda. They tend to stage bullfights to coincide with local festivals. Finally, there is Pamplona. The week of bullfights held in early July each year to celebrate the patron saint of Pamplona, San Fermín, needs no introduction. Hemingway's novel The Sun Also Rises put Pamplona and the local tradition of letting the bulls run through the city streets on the morning of each bullfight on the world map.

As in Bilbao, the locals claim to admire the bulls more than the bullfighters but for other aficionados the drinking and revelry inside the arena are simply too much. Several top stars, Joselito included, have publicly vowed never to perform again during San Fermin.

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