First Bullfight

First Bullfight

Madrid, Spain – August 14, 2011


To my readers, please note some of the photographs in this blog may not be suitable for all viewers. 

Today, I went to my first, and probably the only bullfight.

Looking forward to my experience on that Sunday, I decided to spend most of the day at or near the bullring. After pouring some coffee down my throat, I left the house to catch the light rail. At Colonia Jardin, the end of the light rail line, I switched to the Metro. I rode the Metro to the Ventas station. Stepping out of the Metro carriage, it is obvious one is near the bullring. On the wall is a striking metal art piece of a bull and matador. Emerging from the Ventas station, one is directly in front of the venue, Las Ventas.

The metal artwork at the Las Ventas Metro station.

The plaza around Las Ventas has several pieces of artwork, each featuring a tribute to either bullfighting as a whole or a particularly famous matador.  All the while I walked around, people went to the ticket office to purchase tickets for that afternoon’s bullfight or another in the future.

A sculpture in front of Las Ventas.
The Las Ventas ticket office.
This poster near the ticket office notes the three matadors as Gimenez, de Castro, and de Torres.
The main entrance to the Las Ventas arena.
Not a lot of people at the plaza on a Sunday morning.
The sculpture of the beloved matador, Antonio Bienvenida (1922-1975).
Another view of La Ventas.


After taking several photographs, I found a sidewalk café that overlooked the plaza. I sat there to enjoy a coffee and pastry. I found it interesting to watch the area come to life. More and more people arrived only to be greeted by more and more vendors offering bullfighting souvenirs.

Finished with my coffee, I decided to continue my walk around Las Ventas. I ended up at the backside of the arena at the Puerta de Cuadrillas (Gangs’ Gate). The term “cuadrillas,” refers to the bullfighters’ assistants, picadors, and banderilleros. I walked through the gate. As soon as I did, the unmistakable stable odor greeted my nose. I encountered some of the “gang” exercising horses. In the same area, I spotted another metal sculpture and two workers changing the bullfight poster, ripping off the existing sign and replacing it with one for a future event. It was all I could do to refrain from asking for one of the posters.

A man walking toward the Puerta de Cuadrillas.
Horses that will be used later that afternoon.
Artwork in the horse stable area.
Detail of artwork in the horse stable area.
Exercising one of the horses.
Exercising in the opposite direction.
Slowly walking a different horse.
Changing the bullfight poster.
Another photographer capturing the action.
A large sculpture mural.
The sculpture is a favorite photo location.
People gathering at one of the souvenir locations.


Leading up to the spectacle, I was able to tour the bullfighting museum and the bullring, Las Ventas. That all made my experience much more enjoyable because it gave me some background about the event and how it unfolds.

Shortly after completing the tour, I checked my pocket for my ticket. One would think I might have done that at home. As it turns out, that would have been the smart move — my ticket was still safely at home on the counter! Cursing and kicking myself in the arse, I went back to the Metro. I went all the way back home, grabbed the ticket, and returned to Las Ventas. Luckily, I had plenty of time.

A replica in ceramic-tile of the poster for the first bullfight at La Ventas, June 17, 1931.
The royal box inside Las Ventas.
The infirmary inside the arena.
The tour guide holding up one of the cape styles used by matadors.
The tour guide showing the other cape.
A horse transport.
Detail of the horse transport.
The sort-of-misplaced ticket…


Finished with my impromptu tour of the Madrid Metro system, I took a few more photographs and then entered the arena to take my seat. When I purchased my ticket the previous week, I made sure to buy a sombra (shade) seat. My place happened to be just above the gate used to drag the dead bull from the ring.

I sat quietly at my spot and watched events unfold before me. Several workers prepared the arena, not unlike what one might see before a baseball game; watering down the sand, smoothing the sand, and chalking the various lines. That all takes a lot of work because of the size of the arena, some 61 meters (200 feet) in diameter. That is two-thirds of an American football field.

Behind me, to my right, I saw the royal box. That is where the royal family and guests watch bullfights. The box remained empty for this particular event.

On my left, also behind me, I saw the brass band, entertaining the crowd throughout the afternoon and evening.

Several vendor stands in front of La Ventas.
Detail of some of the arch work and tile work at Las Ventas.
Another statue honoring a matador.
This photo has Las Ventas as a background.
The stairs leading to the Ventas Metro station.
View of the royal box from my seat.
An abstract view of the railing and banner in front of my seat.
Men preparing the surface of the bull ring.
Spraying water on the sand.
Rolling up the hoses.
Laying down the required chalk lines.
The majority of the spectators, like me, sat on the shaded side of the arena.
The brass band above some of the spectators.


There were not a lot of people in attendance. The bullring holds around 22,000 people. I estimate there were only about 7,000 or 8,000 there. I think that is partly because it was a Novillada. That is a “beginners” bullfight. The bulls are younger and smaller. The bullfighters are not as experienced or well known as some others. At this event, the bullfighters were Miguel Gimenez, Felix de Castro (from Valladolid, his first time at Las Ventas), and Adrian de Torres.

The bullfight begins with a parade of the various people involved, the gang. Many people walked into the bullring; several rode in on horses. Many of the horses wore protective blankets, obviously to protect them from the horns of the bull. Ultimately, the three matadors walked into the bullring. They approached the empty royal box and bowed as the announcer introduced them. The three-mule removal team also participated in the cavalcade.

Some dignitaries emerge into the arena.
Waving to the spectators.
Picadores, banderillos, and matadors entering the bullring.
Horses with the protective coverings.
The bullfighters, at the left of the frame, face the royal box. The matador at the top with the red jacket and red pants is Gimenez. I assume the one in the middle is de Castro, and the one at the far left of the frame is de Torres.
The three-mule removal team.
One of the dignitaries.
The three-mule removal team making their way to the exit sans bull.
A closer view.
Doing some last-minute warm-ups.
Waiting for the bullfight to begin.
Many fewer spectators on the sunny side of the bullring.
The first of the six bulls makes an entry into the bullring.

The bullring cleared except for a few of the gang and one matador. That is when the first bull entered the bullring.

It was not quite as bloody as I thought it might be; however, there was plenty of blood. On average, it took 30 minutes from the time the bull entered the ring until the three-mule removal team drug the dead beast from the bullring.

More activity prior to the start.

A picador carries a spear while mounted.
The bullfight begins.
A banderillo preparing to place more banderillas in the shoulders of the bull.
The bull charging at matador Gimenez.
The banderillo takes aim again.
Another charge by the bull.
The bull is nearing the end.
One of the matador assistants trying to entice the bull to charge.
Stabbing the bull with a sword. Note, this is not Gimenez.


At each bullfight, including this Novillada, there are three matadors and six bulls. That means each matador fights two bulls in succession. I watched the first bullfight with the inquisitive nature that comes with things not previously experienced. In addition to the bullfighter, there are banderilleros in the ring. Their job is to stab the bull in the shoulders with the banderilleras. These banderilleras, in combination with the activity induced by the bullfighter, work to wear down the bull’s stamina.

When it appears it is time to put down the bull; the matador receives a sword that he conceals in his cape. At just the right moment, the matador plunges the sword into the beast from the shoulders down. The target is the heart. The inexperience of the first matador was evident. The sword strike did not kill the bull; however, the beast ultimately went down on his belly and legs and sat there. The matador approached the bull with his right fist clenched. The matador got very close to the beast and suddenly hit the bull with his right hand. The motion was from above the matador’s head, straight down onto the bull. The bull immediately collapsed. I thought, WOW! What a strong matador! Then I saw the puntilla (dagger) in his right hand. It became apparent the puntilla severed the spinal cord, finally killing the bull.

Once the bull was dead, the three-mule removal team entered the arena, tied onto the beast, and drug it from the arena…directly under me.

The three-mule removal team dragging the dead bull.
The final view of the bull being drug from the bullring.


Before attending the bullfight, some of my coworkers reminded me that workers butcher the bull after the bullfight. They suggested I go across the street after the bullfight to enjoy some rabo del torro (bull tail). I opted not to do that.

I made it through the third bull and decided I had had enough. I departed and headed for home.

Regardless, I am glad that I at least experienced that part of Spanish culture.

The matador de Castro. Note the sword in his right hand.
A charge by the bull.
The late afternoon sun at the Colonia Jardine light rail station.

2 thoughts on “First Bullfight

  1. Was this what you thought it was going to be ? Did you enjoy the event ? Great photography!

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