The Plaza de Toros de la Merced (bullring) was built from 1901-1902 and commissioned by architect, Trinidad Gallego Díaz, who was inspired by the bullring in Madrid, known as "the one on Calle Aragon".
The bullring dates back to 1972 and, from within, resembles the typical concrete architecture of this era. From the outside it is more interesting, due to the unique asymmetric design created by Juan Moro Urbano, the exterior is landscaped to allow access to the upper terraces without the necessity of steps.
Bullfighting as we know it today, started in the village squares, and became formalised, with the building of the bullring in Ronda in the late 18th century. From that time, it began to follow a particular sequence of events: the entrance of the bull, the picador, the banderilleros, and finally the matador (bullfighter). Many of the picadors' horses were injured in the early days, so these heavy horses now wear protection.
Pedro Romero did not "invent" bullfighting. The origins of Andalucía's strange, compelling ritual are lost in time, and are almost certainly rooted in some forgotten rite of passage of the shadowy, mysterious Celtiberians who peopled the peninsula centuries before the coming of the Romans.
Bullfighting is a subject which divides people like no other; you either love it or hate it; you're an aficionado, with your preferred matadores, who can discuss technique and arte; or you can't take the blood. It's about drama and colour of the spectacle; the passion of the audience; and the courage and skill of the man (nearly always; Almodovar's female matador was the exception) himself.
Whether they like it or not, bullfighters enjoy celebrity status here in Spain. They're even richer and more famous than footballers - because facing off a huge, angry beast is so much more macho and impressive than kicking a small ball around a field. They often end up with (in)famous partners - witness Jesulin and Belen Esteban, permanent fixture on trashy TV shows; El Cordobes and our recent interviewee, fashion designer and TV presenter Vicky Martin Berrocal; Fran Rivera was married to the Duquesa de Alba's daughter, Eugenia. Cayetana, a big bullfighting fan herself, maintains a close relationship with her ex-son-in-law.
Two of Spain's most prestigious bullrings are in Andalucia. Seville has the 18th-century Maestranza, known as the Catedral del Toreo (Cathedral of Bullfighting) and seating 14,000, while Ronda is where Pedro Romero invented modern bullfighting, on foot as opposed to on horse back (see FACT II), in the 18th century. Sevilla's bullring has its most important bullfights during the Feria de Abril, the Spring Fair, while in Ronda's Maestranza (the name for the horsemanship order which runs the bullring) the Goyescas in September see matadors wearing period costume from the Goya era.
As of July last year, bullfighting in Catalonia is banned, joining the Canary Islands in bidding goodbye to La Fiesta. There are strong anti-bloodsports movements in other parts of Spain - even Andalucia, which is considered its home (see FACT IV) - though it remains to be seen if or when these people will achieve their aim in ensuring that trajes de luces (suits of lights, worn by bullfighters) only appear as museum pieces. An estimated 150,000 people are employed in the sport in Spain, from bull-breeders to suit makers.
The origins of bullfighting are probably in the man v beast contests of the Roman gladiators. Even earlier, Palaeolithic paintings found in Spain depict men fighting bulls and other wild animals. In Greek legend, you have Theseus and the Minotaur, a half-man half-bull, while a Babylonian legend has its hero slaying a bull by thrusting his sword "between nape and horns". But there are also strong links with the popular Moorish pastime of rejoneando, where a rider would confront the bull using a rejón (lance) in an arena (picadores in modern-day Spanish bullfighting). Portugal holds rejoneo bullfights where cavaleiros, who wear 18th-century dress and ride padded horses, are the stars, rather than the matadors, as in Spain. In Portuguese bullfights, the bull is not killed in the ring.
It's an irresistible topic for writers - in the early 20th century, those who waxed (lyrical, or not) about La Lidia included Ernest Hemingway and DH Lawrence. For Hemingway, it was about that macho rush of adrenalin, the visceral battle of man against beast, and morbidity. In Death in the Afternoon , he remarks that "people must have an interest in death. and when they can see it being given, avoided, refused and accepted in the afternoon for a nominal price of admission, they pay their money and go to the bullring." In The Plumed Serpent, Lawrence's female protagonist takes a very different view of a corrida in Mexico City: "For the first time, a bull seemed to her a fool. She had always been afraid of bulls, fear tempered with reverence of the great Mithraic beast. And now she saw how stupid he was, in spite of his long horns and his massive maleness. Blindly and stupidly he ran at the rag, each time, and the toreadors skipped like fat-hipped girls showing off."