Your First Bullfight? Here’s What You’ll See

You find your seat in the grandstands and sit down. In front of you is a big circle of yellow sand, surrounded by a red fence.

Horns blow, a gate opens, and the toreros (bullfighters) come out into the ring. Band music starts up.

The Parade (paseillo)

paseillo photo

All the toreros walk together across the ring in a little parade, along with the horses and mules that will take part in the fight.  They bow to the president (presiding authority) who sits in the box of honor; then they get behind the fence.


The Bull Appears

Spanish Fighting Bull (public domain photo by Fiskeharrison (talk)

Suddenly a gate opens in the fence and the bull comes running into the ring, its head high. It charges anything it sees moving, man or cape. Bullfighters (subordinates) wave a big cape at it to make it come their way, then they get behind the fence before it reaches them.

Now the main bullfighter steps into the ring and stands firm while the bull charges him. It looks like the bull will get him. But he holds out a big cape and the bull barges right through it, galloping past, just inches away from him. The crowd cheers, maybe they already shout “Olé!”

(Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license photo by Valentín Balas)

The bull turns around and comes back.  The torero again stands still and receives the charge, holding open the big pink cape. Again the bull drives right by him through the cape. This will happen several more times and then a trumpet blows and the torero gets back behind the fence, leaving the bull alone in the ring.

The Picadors

picasso picador

Out into the ring come men (picadores) mounted on big horses.  They look a little like heavy-set Don Quijotes because they wear some armor and hold a lance.

picador wiki

The horses (there are two) wear a long padded skirt for protection. The bull charges one of them and while it is trying to gore the horse, the picador on top drives his lance into the bull’s shoulder muscles. The lance has a pin to keep it from penetrating more than a couple of inches.

Two or three times the bull charges a horse and gets lanced. Then a trumpet blows and the horses walk out of the ring.

The Banderilleros

picasso banderillas

Now it is the turn of the banderilleros, bullfighters who put in banderillas—decorated sticks or harpoons. Holding these in both hands, they provoke a charge and when the bull arrives they avoid his horns by deftly stepping aside and at the same time they drive the two sticks into its shoulder muscles.

banderillero photo flickr

Three times they do this, so the bull has six banderillas hanging from his shoulders (if none fall out). Then they leave the ring.

The Bullfighter Alone with the Bull

picasso muleta

Now comes the final part: the close passes and the killing of the bull. The head torero comes out holding a smaller cape and a sword. Alone with the bull and working very close, he provokes charge after charge. The danger is evident.

muleta pass

The horns just miss his body as the bull drives through the cape. The torero’s  way of effecting these passes, his grace and timing, make this final part of the fight the most tense and exciting.

The Kill


Finally, he raises his sword and, running directly at the bull,  drives it between its shoulder blades.

If the sword is well-placed, the bull will die immediately. Sometimes the bullfighter needs more tries before it falls down dead.

The Applause


That is all. If the crowd likes the torero’s work they will wave handkerchiefs to ask the president to give him one of the bull’s ears as a prize. The torero walks around the ring, receiving the ovation of the spectators.  The dead bull is dragged out of the ring by a team of mules.

Six bulls will be fought and killed in the same way during a bullfight—two for each of the three  star toreros.


This entry was posted in 1, bullfight, Spain and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Your First Bullfight? Here’s What You’ll See

  1. 100swallows says:

    spt: Thanks. This is an old post and I have lost the source reference. Now I went to Tineye and made a search without success. I looked in Google too but to no avail. I will say as much in a caption under the wonderful photo and ask the author to claim it.

  2. spt says:

    Thanks swallows, very interesting. Love the picture of the flying banderillero. Where did you get that picture? Do you have the rights to it? Thanks.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Toreros de mierda, subvencionados.

  4. ALEX says:


  5. pretty girl says:


  6. Pingback: Torro – a Load of Bull | The Pasty Muncher

  7. Mary Mimouna says:

    I had no idea that piccadores take orders from the bullfighters. That’s fascinating.

  8. 100swallows says:

    Mary: Thanks for your comment. I can only say that aficionados dislike the picadores too and boo (whistle) when they see them hurting the bull more than necessary. The picadores take orders from the bullfighter, who tells them to drive in their pikes more or less, according to how powerful he, the bullfighter, judges the bull to be. If it looks too formidable he gives the picadores a sign to push hard and long. Then the picadores have to take all the abuse of the public, who call them “murderers”. Everyone wants a strong bull but a certain amount of wounding is necessary (to tire it), otherwise the bullfighter could never stay near it.

  9. Mary Mimouna says:

    P.S. – I DO think this is a good post, with great photos and interesting writing!


  10. Mary Mimouna says:

    Having been to a number of bullfights in Mexico, even now I can’t see the point–it always seemed an unfair fight. It’s all about killing the bull. Who really makes me mad are the piccadores! I would go to a bullfight again, but it seems to be just a stylistic killing festival.

    Mary of Expat Abroad

  11. erikatakacs says:

    You’re right, Swallows. I guess every nation has some kind of a custom, spectacle that others may find disturbing, yet at home is part of long tradition.

  12. 100swallows says:

    Erika: I was afraid of that. I realized that an account of the bullfight without explanations or any show of enthusiasm might lead the reader to think: “But what is all this for? Why do they want to kill a bull anyway and what fun can there be in that?”

    Yet I had never seen a simple account of what happens. Even Hemingway doesn’t give you a simple program, and almost no one who hasn’t seen one knows what to expect. I had read a book or two (not yet Death in the Afternoon) before seeing my first but I had imagined it all wrong. Even after seeing one (which impressed me so much that my imagination took over in my recounting of it to my friends), I was still confused about many things.

    In Spanish classes in America they tell you it is a “tragedy in three acts”. But it isn’t a play and there are no acts. It is not a sport, it is not like a circus show, it is not even like bull jumping in America. Even the English word for the spectacle gives the wrong idea: there is no fight. The man and the bull don’t fight like boxers or wrestlers. Neither is trying to be a winner. Probably the whole business is unintelligible outside of Spain, Latin America and, southern France. Spanish fighting bulls are unique. They have been carefully bred to be aggressive and strong. Without the bullfight they wouldn’t exist. They are left alone, though fed well and kept healthy, for four years until their great moment in the ring.

  13. erikatakacs says:

    Swallows, your factual account of the bullfight actually makes it worse for me. Maybe if you presented it in your usual style, it would have been easier to accept the whole idea. But all I can think of is since we can’t kill people in a ring anymore, we kill bulls. What a waste. Such beautiful animals were worshipped as gods in the past for a reason. Still, like you said, one has to see a bullfight with their eyes to decide whether likes it or not. If I ever have the opportunity, I’ll give it a try.

  14. Ken Januski says:

    Hi Swallows,

    Actually I can’t argue with you! My guess is that it would be all too easy for me to enjoy the experience for many of the reasons that you mention.

    But I know in the back of my mind, even while I might be enjoying the entire spectacle, I would be questioning both the killing of the bull and the risk that the bullfighter is taking with his own life. On the other hand if people are going to risk their life in sport it seems to me far more sporting and interesting to be doing it fighting a bull than racing a sports car. At least there is a real, visceral opponent.

    And you can probably guess from previous comments that I have a great love for the anachronistic. Often the old way is better, or at least richer. On the other hand I still have those two questions…….

    Nonetheless this is a fascinating topic and I hope other of your readers will join in with their thoughts!

    And of course I’m waiting to see your drawings/sculptures of the bulls……..


  15. 100swallows says:

    Ken: Maybe you couldn’t be made to like the bullfight but don’t be sure. You who like to watch animals would find the ring a rich place. I went to the circus to see lions and elephants but was disappointed because they were trained and silly-acting. The bull in the ring, and the other animals too, including the bullfighters, are 100% themselves. Instinct. You see not some show but the real thing. Where can you see that anywhere else? Hemingway said he went to bullfights to observe death up close, but that was his obsession.

    I learned to love animals there in fact—to almost adore the bull. (Did you ever see Goya’s etchings on the bullfight? The bull is the shining hero. That is the way most people feel when they see him.) And I had never sat in crowds before and heard and felt them behave when more than just a touchdown moved them.

    Is the bullfight anachronistic? Certainly. And that is also part of its attraction. You sit in an old ring and watch a show almost unchanged since Goya’s time, nearly unfathomable anymore to us. It surprises everywhere. It is more like a hunting rite than a sport as we know it.

  16. Ken Januski says:

    A well-told exposition of just what happens. I don’t think I could ever enjoy it myself. It seems like such a waste of animal life, regardless of human skill involved. But I’ve never fully understood it before and now I do. And or course I loved the Picasso illustrations!

  17. 100swallows says:

    Thanks, Francisco. No sé si eres un aficionado de los toros. Yo fui aunque ya no tanto. Sin embargo, he visto muchísimas corridas y siento cierta obligación de informar a la gente.

  18. Francisco Barrios says:

    Terrific post! Hang there! Looking forward for the next!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s