At a time when the traditional ‘Corrida de Toros’ faces such scrutiny over its cruelty to animals, bullfighting in Seville remains ingrained in the city’s culture and identity. The practice dates back centuries in the Andalusian capital and is centred on the 12,000 capacity Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza. This historic arena hosts some of the world’s most famous matadors and ferocious bulls during the annual Feria de Abril.
The crowds, atmosphere and pageantry of this festival make these bullfights some of the most famous in the bullfighting world. However, if you aren’t interested in attending such an event you can still take a tour of Seville’s bullring and museum which is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.
History of Bullfighting in Seville
While bull-baiting and similar blood sports existed earlier, the first recognized bullfight (corrida de toros) in Seville took place in the 13th century. During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, bullfighting on horseback was more common than on foot. Bullfighting on foot (la lidia) gained prominence in Seville in the early 1700s which bolstered the city’s reputation as the epicenter of bullfighting in Spain. By the late 1700s, breeders in the Seville region were producing nimble, aggressive bulls which were ideal for bullfighting on foot.
Plaza de Toros in Seville
The Plaza de Toros bullring in Seville has a long construction history spanning over 120 years, from 1761 to 1881. Originally, temporary wooden bullrings existed on the site since the 1730s. In 1761, the Real Maestranza de Caballería began building a permanent stone structure to replace the wooden rings.
The initial construction period in the late 18th century established the basic oval shape and appearance of the bullring. However, work was halted for decades at a time due to funding issues and a ban on bullfighting in Spain. The building process resumed in the mid-1800s and the Plaza de Toros was finally completed in 1881 after many expansions and renovations.
The drawn-out construction over many years resulted in an irregular oval shape for the arena, rather than a perfect circle. The bullring continued to be modified into the 20th century, with changes like reducing the size of the ring and improving seating. The Plaza de Toros remains one of the most distinctive bullrings today due to its unique asymmetrical form.
The bullring exemplifies how major historic Spanish buildings often evolved over long periods, with different architects and interrupted plans. Its uneven shape reflects its piecemeal construction over 120 years to become a defining landmark in Seville.
Guided Tours of the Bullring in Seville
The Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza offers daily tours of the bullring and bullfighting museum which provide a fascinating insight to the venue. It one of the most visited tourist attractions in Seville.
Feria de Abril Bullfights
Whilst the bullfighting season (temporada taurina) runs from March to October in Seville, it is the bullfights during the Feria de Abril which are the most prestigious. The festival takes place two weeks after Easter each year and is Seville’s most famous fiesta. Temporary tents called “casetas” host parties and flamenco shows at the Los Remedios fairground and bullfights are held every evening at the Plaza de Toros. The passionate Seville crowds ensure that the Real Maestranza is one of the world’s most demanding bullrings for matadors during the Feria de Abril.
Tickets to Bullfighting in Seville
Although bullfights in Seville during the Feria de Abril are very popular it’s usually possible to order tickets in advance from the website of the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza. If you’re already in Seville you can try buying tickets from the ‘taquilla’ (ticket office) at the bullring or from one of the ticket outlets on c/Adriano next to the arena.
Buying tickets at the Maestranza bullring can prove tricky unless you speak Spanish so take a good look at the official bullfight poster on the walls of the bullring next to the ticket office so that you know what tickets you want in advance. Basically you have to decide between sol (sun), sombra (shade) and sol y sombra (sun & shade) where the ones in the sun are the cheapest.
In the Seville bullring a row of seats is called a “tendido”. In terms of sun and shade you will find the following: Tendidos 1 to 7 are in the shade; Tendidos 6 &9 are in the sun & shade; Tendidos 8, 10, 11 & 12 are in the sun.
What Happens at Bullfights?
If you’re trying to decide whether or not to buy tickets for a bullfight in Seville you should make sure that you understand what you’re signing up for. The bullfight has strict rules and defined roles for its participants. There are matadors dressed in their “suits of lights” who fight the bulls; picadors on horses who weaken the bull’s neck muscles; and banderilleros who assist on foot. Each bullfight features three matadors who fight two 2 bulls each so you will see six bullfights in total.
Each bullfight consists of the following three phases:
- The bullfight begins with the opening parade and the matador’s opening cape passes to assess the bull.
- Picadors on horses then enter the arena and injure the bull’s neck muscles with lances. Then banderilleros plant sharp sticks decorated with paper in the bull’s shoulders to further weaken it.
- Finally the matador performs a series of dangerous passes with his red cape then ends the bullfight by killing the bull between the shoulders with his sword.
The matador is judged by the audience on his performance in killing the bull. If it was very good, he gets one ear from the bull. For a superb performance, he gets two ears. And for a truly spectacular fight, the matador receives both ears and the tail.
If the crowd felt the bull battled bravely, they may ask the president to have the dead bull paraded around the ring in a “lap of honor” which is considered a great honour for the breeder of that bull.
This whole dramatic sequence only takes about 20 minutes from start to finish and happens six times during a bullfight at the Real Maestranza bullring. So the whole event will last around two hours.
Bullfighting in Seville: Tradition v Morality
While a captivating spectacle, bullfighting has faced increasing controversy in modern times over animal cruelty concerns. Critics argue that forcing an animal to fight for entertainment is inherently unethical whilst defenders maintain bullfighting is an integral part of Spanish culture and heritage. Although the spectacle is still popular in Andalucía, public opinion has gradually turned against bullfighting in some areas like Catalonia, which banned it in 2010. On the other hand it is protected by law in the Madrid region as part of Spain’s cultural heritage.
While the bullfight remains a profound tradition in cities like Seville for now, its future is uncertain in an era growing more opposed to this bloody yet mesmerizing ritual. However, regulations and reforms may offer compromises, like prohibiting the killing of the bull in the arena. The debate surrounding the ethics and cultural value of bullfighting will likely continue as more people weigh tradition against morality.