Tag Archives: Bullfight

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Travels in Spain – Andalucía, The Flamenco and the Bull Fight

Raging Bull

“Nothing expresses the masculine quality of this country better than the bull-fight, that lurid and often tawdry gladiatorial ritual, which generally repels the northerner in the theory, but often makes his blood race in the act.”  – Jan Morris. ‘Spain’

In Andalucía  there is no Don Quixote of Castilla-La Mancha or El Cid of Castilla y Leon because this is the land of red blood passion, of Don Juan and Carmen, of gypsies and duels, tapas and sherry but above all else Andalucía is famous for flamenco and bull-fighters!

By late morning the weather had improved but it still looked dangerously unpredictable so we thought we might find something to do under cover. The choice was Bullring museum or bar?

We chose the bar!

Flamenco Red Chairs

But not just any bar, we selected ‘El Quinque’ because it had a two o’clock show of Spanish guitar and Flamenco dancing.  We took our seats and ordered some tapas  and eventually the lights dimmed and the show began.  First some exceptional guitar playing and then a lot of hand clapping and traditional singing and then eventually the dancing.

Spain Flamenco

To the lyrical sound of Spanish guitar, clacking castanets, the rhythmic stamping of Cuban heels and clicking stiletto rather like the sound of an approaching steam train, the dance show began and we enjoyed an hour of genuine Spanish music played by an assembly of musicians and a young woman dancing the flamenco; stamping, posturing and pouting in a rapid, aggressive, staccato style – wonderful vivacious movement, flicking to the left and sweeping to the right, stamping down the centre  and  accompanied all the time by the sound of chattering music like a machine gun firing into an empty sky.

El Quinque Flamenco Show

We enjoyed the show and were even happier when we emerged from the gloom of the bar into bright sunlight outside.  This was a good time to visit the bullring and the museum.

The Plaza de Toros in Ronda is one of the oldest operational bullrings in Spain.    It is only used once a year now for fighting but is important as a Matador training school because Ronda is well-known as the spiritual home of the modern corrida or bullfight.

The founder of this style was Francisco Romero, the patriarch of the famous Romero family of Ronda.  Before Francisco, bullfighting was an activity normally fought from the back of a horse in what was known as the ‘Jerez style’ but Romero introduced the style that we are most familiar with today when the brave Matador stands and fights on foot.

Bullfight Poster Spain

We visited the museum and took a backstage tour and then wandered around the arena itself and as we imagined ourselves to be famous heroic bullfighters the sun began to leak through the clouds and everywhere was magically transformed.

In a bullfight six bulls are killed in an event and this involves three matadors with their band of attendants, the picador horsemen who lance the bulls and the banderillos who stab them with barbed spikes.  If the spectators approve of the matador’s performance they wave white handkerchiefs to signal to the president of the fight that he should reward him with a trophy, one or both of the bull’s ears and/or its tail.  Personally I would rather have a cup or a medal or even better – a cheque!

It is called a fight but it is far from fair and for example the statistics show that in two hundred and fifty years only three matadors have died at the Seville bullring but they have dispatched almost two hundred and fifty bulls a year, so I can’t imagine that a lot of money changes hands betting on the outcome of the competition.

After the bullring tour we took the steps down from the old town along a path which led to the base of the Puerto Nuevo which gave a different perspective to the bridge and some more photo opportunities.  The climb back was arduous so once back at the top we stopped at a bar and ordered a beer which came promptly accompanied with an inevitable dish of olives.

Ronda The Bridge

There is always a complimentary dish of olives in the south of Spain because the country is the world’s leading producer and is by a long way the country with the highest number of olive trees and with more than three hundred million, is nowadays the world’s leading olive and olive oil producer and exporter, which explains why cafés and bars are always so generous with a plate of olives to accompany every drink.  They can afford to be!

We liked this bar/restaurant in a good position at the top of the canyon and made the decision that we would return later for evening meal.

Seville Flamenco

While Kim rested I went to the local shop for some wine and whilst there I asked about the cheese on display.  Just enquired.  I had a mind to take some home at the end of the week.  Unfortunately, due to language difficulties the shop owner interpreted my tentative interest as a firm order and to accompany the wine I ended up with a slab of cheese as big as a house brick.  I really must get back to Spanish lessons!

The weather continued to be moody and unreliable and when we walked out later the grey clouds were crawling like a contagion over the surrounding mountain tops as white dainty lace bonnets were replaced with grey skull caps and we dodged the showers until the sky broke in two, the black clouds disappeared and left behind a glorious sunset.

The day ended in spectacular fashion!

Ronda Spain Sunset

Weekly Photo Challenge: New – Puente Nuevo, Ronda

It took about an hour to reach Ronda, which is one of the pueblos blancos (white towns) so called because they are whitewashed in the old Moorish tradition.

It also happens to be one of the most spectacularly located towns in Andalusia sitting on a massive rocky outcrop straddling a precipitous limestone cleft in the mountains.  We parked the car in the new town near the bullring and crossed the Rio Guadalquivir back to the old town with its cobbled narrow alleys, dazzling white houses and decorative black window grilles covered in scarlet geraniums.

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Alternative Twelve Treasures of Spain – Ronda, A Pueblo Blanco

Ronda Andalusia

“We sighted Ronda. It was raised up in the mountains, like a natural extension of the landscape, and in the sunlight it seemed to me to be the most beautiful city in the world.” –  José Agustín Goytisolo

The “Twelve Treasures of the Kingdom of Spain

was a contest/poll that was conducted by the Spanish Television Company Antena 3 and the radio broadcaster Cope. The final results were announced on 31st December 2007.  I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the eight out of the twelve that I have visited and having completed that I thought I might come up with a personal alternative twelve.  For my number four in the countdown I have gone back to the south of the country and the town of Ronda.

Marbella and the Costa del Concrete

I went to Andalusia in October 2003 to play golf and stayed near Marbella on the Costa del Sol.  I have to say that I didn’t really care for Marbella or Puerto Banus next door, it seemed to be just one long ribbon of inappropriate concrete resorts and an impatient motorway rushing by.  It didn’t help that it seemed to rain continuously and the weather was so poor that when it was impossible to play golf or go to the beach it was necessary to find alternative things to do.

Sometimes that is not so bad and on one disappointing weather morning that ruled out golf we took a drive to Ronda in the mountains and away from the tourist traps on the coast.

This involved a forty-five kilometre drive from our holiday accommodation at Los Aqueros golf and country club through the Sierra Bermeja mountains as we climbed continuously along a dramatic road that clung to the side of the mountains like velcro and zigzagged dramatically all of the way to our destination.  There was light rain and some low clouds but we could just about make out the coast line and the sea as we drove through first oak and then pine forests of this protected ‘natural area’ of outstanding beauty.

Ronda and the Pueblos Blancos…

It took about an hour to reach Ronda, which is one of the pueblos blancos (white towns) so called because they are whitewashed in the old Moorish tradition.  It also happens to be one of the most spectacularly located towns in Andalusia sitting on a massive rocky outcrop straddling a precipitous limestone cleft in the mountains.  We parked the car in the new town near the bullring and crossed the Rio Guadalquivir back to the old town with its cobbled narrow alleys, dazzling white houses and decorative black window grilles covered in scarlet geraniums.

Ronda Andalusia New Bridge

Ronda and the Puente Nuevo…

Ronda is most famous for a one hundred and twenty metre high bridge, The Puente Nuevo, whose name means ‘new bridge’, and which spans a gorge that divides the city in two. The bridge was begun in 1751 and took  forty-two years to complete.  It is supposedly one of the most photographed structures in Spain and often quoted as one of the top places to see in Europe.

We crossed the bridge and looked out over the patchwork landscape of burnt brown, cream, beige and copper coloured fields that spilled out across the flat valley plain, terraces of irrigated green, a meandering river far below and a dramatic grey sky full of rain and stormy menace.

The author Ernest Hemingway and actor and film director Orson Welles both lived in Ronda at some point in their lives and both wrote warmly about the place.  Hemingway’s novel ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ describes the murder of five hundred fascist Nationalist sympathizers early in the Spanish Civil War by being thrown from the cliffs of El Tajo and into the Rio Guadalquivir by the Republican forces.  Or possibly vice versa, I have never read the book so am not absolutely sure and neither are the historical accounts because even after seventy-five years both sides continue to accuse each other of the grisly crime but those who lost their lives are in some small way poetically remembered by Orson Welles who said – “A man does not belong to the place where he was born, but where he chooses to die”

Ronda Andalusia Spain

We walked over the bridge and admired the expansive views over the surrounding countryside and from here it was easy to understand why Ronda was one of the last Moorish strongholds in Spain, only finally falling to the Christian armies in 1485 just seven years before the fall of Granada.

It was possible to visit the interior of the bridge by climbing down a set of steps carved into the side of the canyon and then entering a chamber where there was an interesting exhibition in what was once the guard house describing the history of the bridge and its construction.  Just behind the guard house was the cramped prison, which allegedly both sides used for imprisonment and torture during the civil war.

Although it remained cloudy it was warming up by now so we walked around and through the attractive streets of the old town detouring now and then to viewing platforms built between grand houses and palaces all with stunning views from the top of the gorge.  When we had seen most of what we wanted to see on this side of the river we crossed back over the Puento Nuevo and made our way to the bullring museum.

The Plaza de Toros in Ronda

is one of the oldest operational bullrings in Spain. The arena has a diameter of sixty-six metres, surrounded by a passage formed by two rings of stone. There are two layers of seating, each with five raised rows and one hundred and thirty-six pillars that make up sixty-eight arches.  It is only used once a year for fighting but is important as a Matador training school  because Ronda is well-known as the spiritual home of the modern corrida or bullfight.

The founder of this style was Francisco Romero, the patriarch of the famous Romero family of Ronda.  Before Francisco, bullfighting was an activity normally fought from the back of a horse in what was known as the ‘Jerez style’ but Romero introduced the style that we are most familiar with today when the Matador stands and fights on foot.

We visited the museum and took a backstage tour and then wandered around the arena itself and as we imagined ourselves to be famous heroic bullfighters the sun began to leak through the clouds and everywhere was magically transformed.

Finished now, we returned to the car and I was glad the weather had improved because this meant a better return journey on the Carreta De Ronda, the tricky twisting A397 and without the miserable rain we were better able to appreciate the scenery and the beauty of the razored edged Sierra Bermeja mountains as they swept back down to the coast and we followed the road back towards the concrete coast of the Costa Del Sol.

Ronda Andalusia Spain Bullfighting

My Personal A to Z of Spain, M is for Matadors

Chinchon bullring

We arrived in Chinchón at about half past one and ignoring the edge of town tourist car parks steered the car towards the Plaza Mayor at the very centre of the town. The streets were narrow but not nearly as challenging as those that we had negotiated last year in Carmona and it only took a couple of circuits of the back lanes, including driving up a one-way street the wrong way before we located our hotel La Condesa de Chinchón (named after a painting by Goya), parked the car with some difficulty, because I cannot get the hang of reverse parking in a left hand drive car, and then presented ourselves at reception and checked in.

The Plaza was only a hundred metres or so from the hotel and when we arrived there we were surprised to find it being prepared for a bullfight. Now, I would like to see a bullfight but this trip wouldn’t have been the best time because Christine is an animal lover and almost certainly wouldn’t have approved. From the signs in the shop windows we established that the event would be on Sunday afternoon and we would be gone by then so we were relieved that Christine wouldn’t be here to get distressed about it.

The Plaza is in a marvellous location with a big irregular shaped square that is used for town festivals and the occasional bullfight; it is surrounded by a hierarchical arrangement of buildings of two and three storeys with two hundred and thirty-four wooden running balconies, called ‘claros’ and shops, bars and restaurants on the ground floor all spilling out onto the pavement. It was the location for one of the opening scenes, a bullfight, in the 1966 film, ‘Return of the Magnificent Seven’ and was also used as a location for the film ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’.

Sunday was the day of the bullfight and when we went for breakfast the final hectic preparations were in full swing. Mickey saw the bulls arriving early in the morning and in the Plaza red and gold bunting, the colour of the Spanish flag, was being hung from the balconies surrounding the arena. There was a real buzz of expectancy about the place now and it was a real shame that we wouldn’t be there to experience it.

Bull Ring at Ronda

There were to be seven events and the fights involved three matadors with their band of attendants, the picador horsemen who lance the bulls and the banderillos who stab them with barbed spikes. All bullfights follow the same pattern and these are the first two acts of a bullfight that are designed to weaken the bull before the final act of the show which always involves a series of intricate moves and daredevil passes by the matador before he makes his final lethal thrust between the bull’s shoulder blades. If the spectators approve of the matador’s performance they wave white handkerchiefs to signal to the President of the fight that he should reward him with a trophy, one or both of the bull’s ears and/or its tail. It is not a very fair fight it has to be said and each one comes to its inevitable conclusion with the death of the bull.

On the first day we had visited the castle on the south side of the Plaza so this morning we visited that part of the town we had left for another day and we walked in a northerly direction towards the elevated position of the cathedral. From here there were good views of the Plaza and the bullring and this is where those without tickets would be jostling for position later in the day. From here also there were uninterrupted views over the Meseta, the massive central plateau of Spain laid out like a patchwork quilt in front of us. It was obvious why they built the town and its castle here because no one was going to sneak up on them, that’s for sure!

We walked back through the Plaza and now the horses had arrived and were being immaculately groomed just outside the entrance to the square. I was surprised at just how small they were but they looked strong and agile and by the time the attendants had plaited their manes and tidied their tales they were beginning to look immaculate. The horse is the mount of the picador and is a specialised breed that is bred to work with livestock. It is forbidden by the National Bullfighting Rules to use the indigenous Spanish breed of horse the Pura Raza Española, the favoured mount of medieval knights and later cavalry regiments, for use in bullfights. This is because they are too valuable because, although these days’ horses rarely get badly hurt, the role of the horse is a dangerous one because it has to take the full impact of a five hundred kilo charging bull.

We returned to the hotel to pack and outside there were two white mini-buses full of men checking in at reception. These it turned out were the stars of the show, the matadors and picadors and all of their support entourage. In Spain these men are like Premiership football stars and they are so popular and famous that they even have their own web sites. Fighting today were two dashing young matadors called Alejandro Talavante and Jose María Manzanares and the reception was beginning to fill up with expensive leather travelling cases, sheathed swords and yellow, magenta and crimson capes. One of these men would be staying in our room tonight and I guessed it might be either Alejandro or Jose María because I bet they get allocated a balcony room wherever they go. With a last look into the garden from the balcony before Alejandro moved in we could see a man working hard to clean the blood and guts off of the capes that were left there from the previous fight no doubt.

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http://www.alejandrotalavante.com/inicio.html

http://www.josemariamanzanares.com/

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M is for Matadors but it could well have been:

Madrid

Manzanares

Minorca

Merida

Moors

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Travels in Spain – The Royal Palace of Aranjuez

Arunjuez

It is hardly surprising that with forty-three listed sites Italy has the most World Heritage Sites but for those who think of Spain as nothing more than a country of over developed costas with concrete condominiums, marinas and golf courses it might be a shock to learn that Spain has forty sites and is second highest in the exclusive list.

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Travels in Spain – Chinchón, Preparation for a Bullfight

Chinchón Bull Ring

The Plaza was only a hundred metres or so from the hotel and when we arrived there we were surprised to find it being prepared for a bullfight.  Now, I would like to see a bullfight but this trip wouldn’t have been the best time because Christine is an animal lover and almost certainly wouldn’t have approved.  From the signs in the shop windows we established that the event would be on Sunday afternoon and we would be gone by then so we were relieved that Christine wouldn’t be here to get distressed about it.

Read the full story…