Whilst Catalonia has banned bullfighting, Madrid has protected it as an artform which is considered to be of special cultural value. Anyone guilty of trying to stop bullfights taking place is subject to substantial fines for attempting to damage Madrid’s cultural heritage. This puts bullfighting in Madrid on a par with some of the city’s great buildings such as the Prado Museum and Plaza Mayor in terms of the protection it is guaranteed by the state.
Whilst many villages in the Comunidad de Madrid hold bullfights in small arenas, the top venue for bullfighting is the magnificent Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas in the Salamanca district of Madrid city.
The first bullfight of the season takes place at the beginning of February in Valdemorillo to the north-west of Madrid. The bullfighting season in Madrid runs from March to October with the main event being the San Isidro Festival which sees bullfights held every evening from around 10th May until 18th June.
History of Bullfighting in Madrid
Bullfighting in Madrid is a tradition steeped in history and controversy which still plays a part in the city’s cultural identity. The tradition of bullfights can be traced back to the early 17th century when they were held in the Plaza Mayor.
The city’s first arena dedicated to bullfighting was the Plaza de Toros de la Puerta de Alcalá which staged its first bullfight in 1749 in front of a capacity crowd of 12,000.
This venue remained the bullring of Madrid until 1874 when it was replaced by the Plaza de Toros de Fuente del Berro which held 13.120 spectators.
This venue was succeeded by the Monumental Las Ventas in 1931 with a seating capacity of 23,798. In the early years of Las Ventas, the bullring was frequented by a distinguished spectator in Ernest Hemingway who became fascinated by bullfighting after attending his first ‘corrida’ in Madrid. The publication of his non-fiction book, Death in the Afternoon (1932) introduced bullfighting to a worldwide audience.
Las Ventas remains the site of bullfighting in Madrid and is the largest bullfighting arena in Spain.
Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas
La Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas was built in 1929 and the first bullfight was held there in 1931. It is the most iconic bullring in the world of bullfighting which has hosted all of the most legendary matadors including Juan Belmonte, Manolete and El Cordobés. Las Ventas is known for its most demanding of ‘aficionados’ which makes it the most difficult arena in the world for matadors to succeed in.
Las Ventas Tour
Visitors who want to learn more about the architecture and history of Las Ventas can take an audio tour of the Plaza de Toros and visit its bullfighting museum. Highlights of the tour include visits to the chapel where matadors pray before the fight, the courtyards where the bulls are held in pens and the ‘callejón’ around the bullring.
Getting to Las Ventas
The Las Ventas bullring is located on Calle de Alcalá, some 4km north-east of Puerta del Sol. The best way of getting there is to take Line 2 of the Madrid Metro and get off at the stop for Las Ventas. Line 5 also goes to this station. Numerous bus routes stop near the bullring but this is a much slower way of getting there. Taxis and Ubers are readily available.
Bullfighting at the San Isidro Festival
The best time to see a bullfight in Madrid is during the months of May and June when San Isidro, the world’s most famous bullfighting festival takes place. Every day for three weeks there are fights at 7 o’clock in the evening which last from two to three hours.
Bullfight Tickets in Madrid
Bullfighting tickets for the San Isidro festival are very difficult to get as every seat is owned by a season ticket holder so every evening of the festival is a sell out. However, you might be able to get tickets from local ticket agencies in Madrid or from dedicated bullfight ticketing websites such as Servitoro, Ticketstoros or Entradastoros.
For less prestigious bullfights such as ‘novilladas’ you can usually get tickets at the Las Ventas bullring ticket offices in the days preceding the bullfight and on the day of the event. The price of the seats depend upon how close they are to the “arena” and whether they are in the sun or the shade (the latter being more expensive).
Ethics of Bullfighting in Madrid
In recent decades bullfighting has faced many challenges with the rise of animal rights activism. There are many question about the ethics of a contest which always ends in the bull’s death. The calls for bullfighting to be banned have fallen on deaf ear in Madrid where it is still a popular tradition steeped in history and cultural identity.
The Las Ventas arena sells out during the San Isidro Festival which is the biggest of all the annual festivals in Madrid. To this day many Madrilenos (particularly of the older generation) continue to see bullfighting as being deeply ingrained in their regional heritage. This view is supported by the Madrid government which has granted bullfighting protected status.
On the other hand, in Catalonia, bullfighting has declined dramatically in recent decades due to these ethical concerns over the bulls’ suffering. Catalan animal activists successfully pushed for a regional ban on bullfighting that went into effect in 2012. For most Catalans today, bullfighting is seen as an outdated and uncivilized activity at odds with modern values. The Catalan government aims to promote animal welfare over bullfighting as a cultural pastime.
This contrast between Madrid and Catalonia reveals the diversity within Spain regarding acceptance of this controversial tradition.