A cultural tradition that has been taking place since medieval times in a small town north of Madrid has seen some changes this year. A bull running through the streets is chased by locals in a festival named Tora de la Vega.
Normally the bull is slowly stabbed death as participants chase it and horsemen spear it in front of the observing crowd. Authorities have recently banned the killing of the bull and for the first time in over 500 years the bull was allowed to go free.
As I plan my next trip to Spain and Morocco naturally the idea of attending a bullfight comes to my mind. Although it has been banned in a few areas bullfighting is still a strong cultural tradition in many parts of Spain. It is listed by many popular tourist guides and blogs as a top attraction and draws tens of thousands of spectators a year.
The question that comes to my mind is not when and where to attend a bullfight, but should you attend a bullfight? Are you witnessing a long-lived cultural practice as an impartial observer or are you endorsing an outdated practice of animal cruelty? This question isn’t so easy to answer, and as for those attempting to practice responsible tourism the issue goes much deeper.
Spaniards approval of bullfighting is at an all-time low. According to the recent Ipsos Mori polls, only 19 percent of Spanish adults support the practice. But just because they do not support bullfighting doesn’t mean that the majority of Spaniards approve an outright ban. Many still view it as an important cultural tradition.
There can be little doubt in most people’s mind that bullfighting is a cruel practice. A bull is brought before an audience where it is stabbed multiple times in a drawn out ceremony before finally being killed.
In the most popular form of bullfighting known as corrida de toros a succession of displays takes place where the bull is first attacked by spears to the shoulders and neck.
This weakens the bull, forcing it to lower its neck making it easier to kill. The matador then on foot will kill the bull with a sword thrust through the aorta. While a painless death is the goal this is not always the case.
Bullfighting has been around a long time. Many estimates go back to at least medieval times or even further. The legend of how it began is Christians and Muslims would practice fighting bulls on horseback. Bulls are a large and intimidating creature and a challenge to kill.
Many modern Spaniards consider bullfighting not as sport, but as an art form. They consider it as a noble cultural tradition and an ingrained part of Spanish identity.
For those who support bullfighting the bull is not considered to be created cruelly. A mighty creature that is specifically bred to fight, the bull is a dignified adversary who dies with honor.
The life of a bullfighting bull might actually be better than those bread for their meat. Because bulls bred for the ring must be in top form they actually can live a better life and are treated much better during their lives than animals bred for consumption.
There is considerable debate on the economic impact of bullfighting. The Spanish European Parliament estimates the practice costs Spanish taxpayers almost €600 annually in subsidies. While another report by the National Association of Bullfighting Event Organizers cites a study that bullfighting contributes €1.6 billion to the Spanish economy.
While the statistics on the impact of bullfighting on the economy are varied it is hard to argue that attending a bullfight does not promote the practice. Tourist dollars injected into local economies support businesses involved in bullfighting and therefore support the practice of bullfighting.
Whatever your thoughts are on the subject nobody can make the decision for you on whether or not to attend a bullfight while visiting Spain. It is clear that bullfighting is strongly linked with Spanish culture and identity but it is under attack and is in danger of being banned.
While the modern era of globalization brings rapid degradation of local cultures and traditions it begs the question on whether all cultural practices and traditions are worth saving.
Nobody can make the decision for you. Being fully aware of all the issues ranging from concerns of animal treatment to economic as well as cultural implications can help us all make better decisions as we roam the world as responsible travelers.