When King Alfonso of Castilla-León had legally denounced the profession of bullfighter as dishonourable, little did he know that one day whole families would exercise this dangerous profession and many generations would follow in their tracks. Today's bullfighters often are descendents of dynasties with a succession similar to that of royal families.
These dynasties of toreros and bullfighting itself all started about 300 years ago in the city of Ronda, where you will still find Spain's oldest bullring. The oldest known dynasty, of the Romero's, came from this city in the west of the province of Málaga. The newest, emerging hope of present-day bullfighting, Francisco Rivera Ordóñez, is the heir of no less than three truly legendary families in the history of bullfighting: Dominguín, Ordóñez and Rivera.
The audience is seated stalls or on the balcony, where the presidential box is situated as well. Opposite are the puerta de cuadrillas, through which the matador and his team enter, and the passageway for the bulls. Before entering the bullring, the matador waits in a corridor (callejón) behind the barreras and burladeros. The horses stay in the patio de caballos and the bulls in the corrales.
Early in the 18th century, Francisco Romero was born in Ronda. He would become the founding father of the tradition of the bullfight on foot, with sword and muleta (small cloth). Juan Romero, Francisco's son, had no less than four sons who would become bullfighters -José, Pedro, Gaspar and Antonio- which is not unusual because back then it was very common for sons to exercise their father's profession. Antonio was killed by a bull, but Juan's second son, Pedro, was eventually recognized as the 'Father of Contemporary Bullfighting'.
Pedro Romero was born in Ronda in 1754 and he is said to have killed more than 5600 bulls in his career without receiving any major injuries. His family was incidentally already famous for the old ages its members reached (his father died at the age of 102) and Pedro Romero killed his final bull at the incredible age of 79 in the bullring in Madrid. He also founded the first school for bullfighters, in Seville.
During the great days of bullfighting in the first half of the 20th century, there was a most passionate and unique rivalry between two sevillanos, Joselito el Gallo and the revolutionary Juan Belmonte. De Gallo's descended from gypsies. In the bullring, Rafael el Gallo was an inspired, unpredictable, superstitious bullfighter, capable of fighting some of the most memorable and unsurpassed artistic fights one day, and causing a scandal the next by fleeing from the bull and diving into the callejón far from elegantly.
The corrida (the bullfight) consists of
three stages, or tercios. In the first, the tercio de varas,
the matador is being assisted by peones (helpers) and picadores
(horsemen with lances). In the tercio de banderillas,
banderilleros stab arrows in the bull's back. In the tercio de
muleta, the matador makes several passes at the bull with his
muleta (cape). The actual killing of the bull, with a sword, is
Belmonte, too, was a unique, gifted and revolutionary torero. He would radically change the basic rules of bullfighting by transforming the popular spectacle into the fine art it is today, in which more than just athletic power and talent is shown. Belmonte was of a small stature and did not possess the physical superiority of his rival José el Gallo. So he had to develop a new technique, resulting in the bull moving through the ring instead of the torero. To dominate the animal, he would force the bull to charge.
The great Antonio Ordóñez, his father Cayetano and his four brothers Cayetano, Juan, Pepe en Alfonso were all from Ronda. The bullfighter in Ernest Hemingway's novel Fiesta, the sun also rises was based on Cayetano senior.
Antonio can rightly be considered as one of the greatest torero's of all times. He gave the art of bullfighting new meaning with a maximum of purity, classic style and courage. He appeared on the scene in the early 1950's as the main challenger of Luis Miguel González Dominguín, his brother-in-law to be.
A decade earlier, he had been the talented, technically gifted and strong rival of Manolete, probably the most famous torero ever. Dedicated to him was the Manolete museum in Córdoba, now the Museum of Bullfighting.
This exciting episode in the history of bullfighting inspired Hemingway to write a series of essays for Life magazine, not long ago bundled and published as the book Dangerous Summer.
Top-torero's perform in 60 to 80 corrida's a year for fees ranging from ten to thirty thousand euros, depending on the size and the status of the bullring. The highest fees are paid at the prestigious San Isidro Feria in Madrid. These seemingly impressive amounts are dramatically reduced once the matador has paid the salaries of at least at employees of his cuadrilla, and all expenses for hotels, food, transportation, and the commission for his manager, publicity, taxes, expensive costumes, swords and all other necessities.
During the summer, the work schedule is inexpressibly hard, when bullfighters traverse the whole country with hardly enough time to rest before they start the corrida. A torero usually doesn't get to see more of the city where he perfoms than his hotel and the bullring. Flight schedules hardly ever coincide with his schedule and consequently, most trips are undertaken at night by car. Among the really professional bullfighters, drinking, smoking and partying are considered a taboo. Young, ambitious novilleros make all these sacrifices only too happily, because they have a predominating obsession to reach the highest ranks of their trade. Older matadors will often try everything to discourage young people from pursuing a career in this extremely difficult, unpredictable profession that requires so much self-sacrifice.
Many foreigners don't get to see more of bullfighting than corrida's in the tourist towns in southern Spain, which are usually of doubtful quality. They are not a good introduction to this tradition that is considered an art form by many Spaniards. If you want to see a real bullfight, you will have to go to one of the better bullrings, where famous and renowned bullfighters perform.
However, a lot of people abhor bullfights. The international society for the prevention of cruelty to animals has campaigned against it for years. A campaign that meets with a wider response all the time, even here in Spain. Some cities and provinces have already banned bullfights.