Bullfighting in its modern form has evolved over centuries, and there is no certainty as to exactly where and when it began. There is archaeological evidence of combat or competition between people and bulls in frescoes from the Minoan palace at Knossos on the island of Crete, which dates back 4,000 years.
Bulls were also the focus of various religious cults of that time in areas around the Mediterranean. Later, spectacular combat with bulls was a regular feature in Roman arenas. Researchers have cited various explanations for the development of Spanish bullfighting, from the influence of Visigoth culture to the Moorish conquest of Spain in the beginning of the eighth century.
Regardless of its origins, bullfighting had become a fixture of public life in Spain by the 18th century, when attendance and participation began to spread from the noble classes to the common people. That is also the era in which breeders began to focus on producing a special class of bulls to appear in the ring.
In the most common type of bullfighting in Spain, three matadors face two bulls apiece. Assisting are horse-mounted picadors, who use lances to bleed and weaken the bulls in the first part of the performance, and banderilleros, who place barbs in the bulls during the second part of the performance, while executing the first turns of the cape. In the third portion of the event, a matador faces a weakened bull on foot and encourages the bull to charge in order for the matador to execute stylized passes with the cape. Finally, the matador kills the bull with a sword.
While bullfighting is often seen as a sport by outsiders, aficionados prefer to think of it as a performance, akin to ballet, in which the outcome is uncertain and the ideal for the spectator is not to see the most efficient kill, but to appreciate the skill of the matador and the improvisatory nature of the affair.
Bullfighting has provoked controversy since the 16th century, when it was condemned by Pope Saint Pius V. Today, animal advocates protest that the sport is inherently cruel to the bulls. Critics point out that the goal of the confrontation is for the bull to die and note that the bull is wounded by picadors and banderilleros and loses blood for a considerable period before facing the matador. They also criticize the use of blindfolded horses on the part of the picadors; the horses are also at risk of being gored by the bulls. In 2004, the regional government of Barcelona (part of the Catalan region of Spain, where bullfighting is less popular) voted to ban bullfighting, but the ban was overturned.
Traditional bullfighting remains popular in Spain, where there are about 600 bullrings, from the 20,000-seat rings in Madrid and Barcelona to the many smaller rings in towns across the country. Bullfighting is also popular in Portugal — where, by law, the bull is killed outside the ring — and in parts of southern France, as well as in former Spanish colonies from Mexico to Peru. There are also non-lethal bullfighting events in parts of the United States.
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Women in Bullfighting
Women have always had a place in bullfighting, although their proper role has been contested, as aficionados and authorities intervened to allow or disallow women in the ring. The first record of a female matador comes from the 17th century, according to historians, and a Goya etching from the early 19th century, Valor varonil de la celebre Pajuelera en la de Zaragoza, pays homage to a female bullfighter.
In the 1930s, Juanita Cruz fought successfully in Spain, until the government banned women from fighting on foot. Cruz went on to compete in South America, where women were not banned from bullfighting.
Conchita Cintrón, the daughter of an American couple who grew up in Peru, was drawn to the bullring as a girl and became a sensation in Mexico in the 1940s. She later went to Europe, where she fought for several more years before retiring from the ring in 1949. In her career, she killed as many 750 bulls in the ring, using a distinctive combination of Portuguese and Spanish technique. She was trained as a rejoneadora, someone who bullfights while riding a horse. According to some sources, she was arrested after her final fight in Spain, where women were not allowed to bullfight on foot, when she dismounted her horse. According to the tale, she was pardoned immediately afterward.
In 1974, Angela Hernandez went to court in Spain to overturn the ban on women, opening the door for more women to pursue bullfighting. One of her successors was Maribel Atienzar, whose career lasted until 1987.
In the 1990s, Cristina Sánchez gained international attention as the most prominent female matador. For several seasons she was very successful, but she retired in 1999, citing the enduring sexism of fans and her peers in the ring.
The most prominent female bullfighter in recent years has been Mari Paz Vega, who earned her status as a matador in 1997 — the first woman to earn that honor in a bullring in Spain. She has continued to take part in bullfighting, earning an outstanding reputation in Spain and especially in Mexico and South America, where, she says, the bullfighting world is more open to women.
» Weber, Bruce. “Conchita Cintrón, ‘Goddess’ of Bullring, Dies at 86.” The New York Times. Feb. 21, 2009.
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