Sunday, 24 November 2013

Real Maestranza de Caballeria de Sevilla

Real Maestranza, Plaza de Toros, Sevilla. Of course when you think of Sevilla many will think of the opera Carmen, the story of a Cigarette Factory gypsy girl who has many lovers and has a brief fling with a Spanish Soldier Don José and then a glamorous Matador Escamillo, only to find death at the Plaza de Toros.

Sevilla has always had a large gypsy population who lived with the Jews across the river in the more popular neighbourhoods. So the story of Carmen has some basis in fact, the Plaza de Toros was built in an area which was not considered a good neighbourhood at the time, the location facing the Guadalqivir River and its old prosperous Port which brought the riches of the Empire from the Americas, and the great Cathedral on the other side.  Today the area is a beautiful park area set in historical surroundings.  The Baratillo or bullring we see today was built in 1761 and earlier version was built around 1730 by order of the King of Spain, Philip V, the first of the Bourbon to rule Spain.

However the origin goes back even further to 1248 when King Ferdinand III the Saint conquered the City and rid it of its Moor rulers. At first the role of the Baratillo was to be a military equestrian school for the Noble Knights under the Brotherhood of St-Hermenegildo.  Teaching horsemanship to the Nobles was very important to the Crown and they had to be proficient in the Jineta riding with short stirrups and bent knees.

Uniform worn by Prince Carlos de Bourbon y dos Sicilia in 1962, such uniforms are worn by members of the Royal Order.

Philip V having received the support of the Brotherhood during the War of Spanish Succession between France, Austria, Holland and England, granted privileges to the nobles of Sevilla and created the Real Maestranza de Caballeria, the head of which was the son of the King, the Prince of the Asturias. Today this position is held by H.M. King Juan Carlos and his son the Prince of the Asturias is deputy head of the Brotherhood. All other positions of the Royal Society are held, to this day, by the oldest and noblest families of Sevilla. So bullfighting is closely associated with the Crown in Spain. The Royal Order is responsible for the administration and up-keep of the buildings and bull ring.

It was Philip V in 1729 who authorized the bullfights as a festivity where the Nobles could display their skills at horsemanship. There was no Matador as we see today it was more about horsemanship skills.

Today the Royal Society is also the sponsor of the School of Tauromachy which trains young bullfighter and also supports many High School groups in Seville composed of students and teacher of the Aula Taurina Association. It also promotes the arts and culture and gives out prestigious academic prizes to the best students of various Faculties of the University of Sevilla. Because of its origin as a Royal Order of Chivalry it continues to promote equestrian sports, which remain important in Spain.

In front of the building is an equestrian statue of the mother of the current King, Maria de las Mercedes Countess of Barcelona.  The complex is composed of several structures, the house of the Royal Order with its ornate baroque rooms, library, grand reception hall and Royal Chapel. There is the Princes gate and box, the bullfighters Chapel and various other stalls for horses and mules and rooms for the staff, veterinarians, an infirmary, etc. Finally the bullring itself.

The bullring is egg shape with a diameter of 63 meters, the floor is slightly raised at the centre and is made of yellow-ochre pipeclay extracted from the quarries of Alcala de Guadaira.

Bullfighting in North America with all the animal rights group is often judged harshly as a cruel blood sport. The problem is that most people do not know much about bullfighting and nothing about the tradition or where it came from or how it started and it is easy to fall back on stereotypes, misconceptions and righteous indignation.

Bullfighting as we know it today as had a long evolution through the centuries. Spain has 36 species of wild bulls which roam the countryside.

Given that this type of bulls are unpredictable adds to the danger element. Bulls do not always loose and can kill both horse and man. Not to forget they weigh more than one ton and come at great speed.

The matador in the early years was simply following the horsemen around on foot and if the situation became too dangerous would be charged with distracting the bull away from the horsemen. To avoid casualties in men and horse, this type of military exercise was steeped with rules and regulation and it was a practice drill to become better horsemen in battle.

With time the Art of War changed and heavy mounted cavalry was replaced with a much lighter cavalry. However the problem of the wild roaming bulls continued. Washington Irving describes in his book ''Tales of the Alhambra'' how in Andalusia, when he travelled, they were constantly on their guard, not wanting to come upon any such wild bulls in a field or on the road. Not knowing if a wild bull was eyeing you ready to charge with deadly consequences. Difficult of us to imagine in North America, unless you think of the Buffalo on the Prairies, given that bulls and cows were imported here from Europe and were the docile kind.

With time the Matador became more and more skilled at challenging bulls in an open area and the cavalry men became the picador of today, playing a secondary and very minor role in bull fighting.

Bull fighting is an art, it is part of the culture of Spain and has developed into a series of complex rules regulating every fight. It is not only courage in the arena but also steady nerves, good reflexes and a keen sense of how an unpredictable animal might react, which requires split second decision, good judgement and precision in movements.

Heads of famous bulls who fought in the arena

The bulls are breed specifically for fighting and nothing else. Each bull is examined by a Veterinarian to ensure that the animal is free of disease or is not injured before the fight. They are not tormented or abused. The red cape of the Matador is simply a tradition and does nothing to excite a bull, what the bull is attacking is movement in the cape as the Matador stands still.

Bulls are also fairly smart and can charge either from the left or the right, it is up to the Matador to judge from what side he will be charged at by the bull and all this happens in less than one minute.

An error of judgement on the part of the Matador can easily result in a very severe injury or death. The most famous Matador Manolito died at age 30 in 1947 from being gored in the lower abdomen by a bull in the ring, he had misjudge the bulls reaction after having administered the kill.

Added to the element of constant danger is the fact that thousands of people are watching your every move and will not hesitate to shout or whistle their disapproval if the Matador makes a mistake or is not positioned properly or does not show courage. Crowds can turn on a Matador and root for the bull instead.
 Poster of the Season with the calendar of days of Bull fights with the name of the Matador appearing.

The entire combat is timed and executed in precise time frames, each segment is adjudicated by professional judges and a series of moves must be executed in each segment, points are allocated or not on how the Matador is performing. The kill must also be clean and requires a great deal of practice and skill. The sword must enter the bull at a precise point at the base of the neck, this area in very small no more than a few inches, a specific spot which will allow the blade to go straight to the heart and kill instantly the animal. It is far more complicated and dangerous than imagined given that the coup de grâce is given with the Matador standing in front of the charging bull. The victorious Matador will exit by the Princes Gate. The dead bull is butchered and the meat goes to select restaurants.

As for the seats they are divided between sun and shade, the best and most expensive seats are in the shade. Many boxes are reserved for the Royal Society and this includes the Princes Box. The bullring as a seating capacity of 13,934 seats and is divided in two floors. The covered archways balconies are the boxes and the lover uncovered section is for the general public, the seats in that area are stone. From the Princes Box reserved at all times exclusively for the use of the Royal Family on either side are 6 boxes reserved for their guests. Another 8 boxes are reserved for the member of the Royal Order of Chivalry and their family and guests.

Royal Box or the Princes Box reserved for the Royal Family
always in the shade. Below it is the Princes Gate for the victorious Matadors. 

 Under the clock on the opposite side in the Sun the box for Politicians, below is the entrance for the bulls.

General seating area bring a cushion.

I have been to many bullfights in Mexico City at the great bullring during the Season. It is an incredible spectacle and charged with emotions. I have seen bulls killed and Matador badly injured and carried off, while the bull walks away.  I do not believe that a bullfight can be viewed as either this or that, no more so than wrestling or boxing, it fits in an area all by itself. In Spain bullfighting is culture and part of the National fabric of the country.


  1. I remember in debate class in junior high school i was assigned to 'defend' bullfights. I told the teacher I loathed the concept so please no. I had to anyway. I forget what I said but I got an A considering how well I defended it.

  2. Another film you mustn't miss, then: Blancanieves, Snow White as girl toreador. Get it out on DVD now - though of course it doesn't have the advantage of your photos, brilliant colours, as it's in black and white (and silent, but that's part of its genius).

    Assuming you got home safely and the 'babies' were pleased to see you.

    1. thank you for the suggestion. I had good luck that day with brilliant sunshine so good photos. Except for the B&W one which is a vintage photo I found but a classic for me as it captures well the mood.

      Yes the puppies were very happy to see us again.