The Parliament of Catalonia banned bullfighting on July 28th 2010 in the whole region’s territory, including Barcelona. There are not bullfights anymore, which is correct according with the current ethical standards towards the animal treatment. I have never been a bullfighting fan but neither a banning supporter. I won’t judge in this article, I will just track and try to explain the steps that this tradition has left behind in Catalonia, which is still visible nowadays.
According with the General Archive of the Crown of Aragon the first bullfight hosted in Catalonia dates from 1387 and took place in Barcelona. Random performances developed in a complete tradition during XVII and XVIII century but it was not until the beginning of the 19th century when the bullfighting festival began to have greater proliferation and importance in Catalan lands. Therefore they began to build the first proper bullring and celebrate the first bullfights in this period. Currently now it’s possible to visit only two bullfighting rings in Barcelona: Las Arenas and La Monumental. There was a third one, the oldest, called El Torín, located in the seaside neighborhood of La Barceloneta, inaugurated in 1834, closured in 1923 and demolished in 1944.
I have been, when I was a kid, a couple of times to watch a bullfight with my grandfather. I have to admit that I don’t remember at all the show. What I remember is that shinning sun and a trail of blood spots on the bright golden arena. I can still hear the crowd. They were loud; yelling in tension cause every movement on the arena could mean death.
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, bullfighting was highly supported by Catalan intellectuals, such as Mariano Fortuny, Ramón Casas, Lluís Companys, Francesc Macià, Salvador Dalí or Joan Miró. Today there are still bullfighting personalities within Catalan society, such as Joan Manuel Serrat, Antoni Tàpies and Pere Gimferrer. But since the eighties the amount of spectators during the shows dramatically decreased and started to come initiatives against bullfighting supported by ethical and political reasons, both at the same time and not necessary together.
Now the bullrings are empty and dedicated to other purposes. Las Arenas, inaugurated in 1900 and got out of use in 1977, has become a shopping mall. With the arrival of the new century they started to work to keep the structure and elevate it to make the building higher. Nowadays the visitor could get into the most worldwide trendy chains of shops distributed in three levels; it hosts a Cinema and a cultural exhibition center and upon the top there is a roof terrace with bars and awesome views to the city.
La Monumental de Barcelona was inaugurated in 1914 with the name of Plaza de El Sport, it was immediately enlarged and renamed in 1916. It was built in neomudéjar and byzantine style has capacity for 19.582 spectators. Since it’s the only bullfighting ring you can visit as a ring nowadays has the function of being a museum. There you can get into and step the arena and get behind the wooden fences (burladeros) where the bullfighters (toreros) hide themselves from the bull’s horns. It’s possible still to see the old wooden advices showing the cattle raising’s owner and the bull’s age and weigh.
In the museum the visitor could watch some pictures and a collection of advertising posters for the shows and outside the museum it’s interesting to walk around the backend of the ring, visiting the horse cages of the special bullfighters that did their job on a horse (rejoneadores) and the place where they took care about the dead body of the animals.
Looking back to my past, willing to understand something about my culture I’ve never appreciated has been a very interesting trip. To be honest, I’ve enjoyed more writing this article about this tradition in decline than watching any real bullfight. I hope you will also do just following the tracks.