Seville: Into the Ring

Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla

Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla

April 11th, 2020

This post is part of a series called Daily Dose of Beauty featuring travel photos and stories from my archives, shared with you as we shelter in place during the pandemic. For today’s Daily Dose, we’re in Seville, Spain at its historic bullfighting ring.

On a morning walk through Seville we unknowingly stroll by one of the city’s most historic buildings. Aside from its grandeur and striking color combination, there’s a palpable aura that catches our attention. Something about this place just feels big and ominous. We follow the sidewalk as it curves around the building and brings us to the front entrance and ticket office. Only then do we realize we’re at Seville’s storied bullfighting ring, the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla.

I’m not a fan of bullfighting but we’re in Spain and this country has a longstanding history with the controversial sport. Even calling it a sport is controversial since it’s almost predetermined that each bull entering the ring will die eventually, except for on those rare and celebrated occasions when the matador in the ring cannot get the job done and the surviving bull goes on to live out his days in a verdant pasture in rural Spain.

There’s a quote about traveling that sums up our dilemma today:

Travelling, one accepts everything; indignation stays at home. One looks, one listens, one is roused to enthusiasm by the most dreadful things because they are new. Good travellers are heartless.
~
Elias Canetti

Today, we’re maybe only partially heartless as we decide to take the tour of the bullfighting ring but refrain from attending any bullfights. I’m certainly intrigued by the history and beauty of this place but death in the afternoon (as Hemingway aptly titled his famous book about bullfighting), is not something we feel compelled to see.

With tickets in hand, we enter the museum in the arched spaces below the ring. We’re instantly captivated by the vintage posters from decades ago filled with color and handmade fonts.

Bullfighting Museum Interior

Bullfighting Museum Interior

The opulence of bullfighting draws us in as we wander through the museum. Renowned matadors are celebrated with richly painted portraits and famous bulls are memorialized with wall mounts and plaques. An embellished traje de luces or “suit of lights” is displayed in a glass box on the wall. There’s a reverence to the tradition of bullfighting that feels heavy and serious.

The tour guide tells us there are about 50-60 matadors today and bullfighting is most popular in Spain, Mexico and Argentina. The best matadors travel around the world and between hemispheres as the bullfighting season changes.

Outside the ring, a separate entrance for matadors is marked with small metal visages of bullfighters. A door within a door opens and an attendant awaits their arrival on days when bullfights take place.

A tunnel in the interior leads to the small door of the matador’s chapel, with a tiny sign above it. Matadors say their prayers here before meeting their next opponent. A few chairs line each wall, providing room for matadors and anyone related who wants to spend some time here before or during a fight.

We continue on to a short staircase where spectators climb up to the seating surrounding the ring.

Stairs to the bullring

Stairs to the bullring

Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla

Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla

Stepping up for our first look at the bullfighting ring, I’m struck by its color and size. Spain’s vibrant red and yellow paint the ring, from the ground to the archways. Tiered brick seating holds up to 12,000 people. I imagine the noise and the spectacle of a top-tier bullfight, two creatures against each other in the vast emptiness of this ring.

Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla

Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla

There’s no denying this is a remarkable landmark of Seville, started in 1749 and yet not completed until the late 1800s. So much has happened in the decades and centuries during its existence – life, death, wars and even pandemics.

Normally, the annual Seville Fair would be starting this month and the ring would be packed with spectators watching the bullfights. This year a different kind of fight has preempted the tradition. Seville’s ring remains empty and its bulls will live a while longer as the country’s attention is focused elsewhere, on a far more challenging opponent.

Until tomorrow,
Kelly

23 comments

  • Thank you for talking about Spain so nicely, it changes from the dramatic figures that we are saddened by every day. I note this beautiful quote, ‘Indignation stays at home’, it is a more elaborate way of saying ‘curiosity’ which is for me the very essence of the travel spirit.

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  • Such a great post Kelly. The day would not be the same without you. Of course as you would expect I was excited by the colours but particularly that Cadmium Yellow Medium, one of my favourite colours :-)🎨 Hope you are having a happy Easter weekend, as much as one is able to be happy these days.

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  • What a magnificent bullring! I love the scale, the architecture and the bright colors of this place. I think I’d also like to take this tour without watching the actual bullfight.

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  • Ahh, that quote will fortify me once I set forth into the world again! Like you, we could not bring ourselves to attend an actual bullfight when in Spain most recently. When I lived there in my 20s, though, I did go, and I was sickened. Still, it was “good” to have done it and to not ever have to do it again! Love the photos, which show the majesty of the whole tradition once we separate the cruelty from it in our minds.

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    • Isn’t that quote the best?! 🙂 I’ve never known anyone who has been to a bullfight so it’s interesting to read your comment ~ which is close enough to the real thing for me. Thanks for your thoughts! Hope you’re enjoying the weekend!

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  • “Travelers are heartless” – what an interesting concept! I’m kind of glad you didn’t do the actual bullfight Kelly. We may be heartless away from home but I don’t think I could watch any animal be slaughtered for sport. I have a hard time with hunting as well. That notwithstanding, what a gloriously beautiful place. It reminded me quite a bit of our visit to China with the red/yellow/gold color, the curved portals and the scale of the place overall. Beautifully done.

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    • Thanks, Tina! Isn’t that quote so interesting?! Travelers do have to be a bit heartless to understand and empathize with how world cultures so differently live life and follow tradition. In any case, it’s great to see some of the world’s wildlife and animals enjoying a reprieve from our human behavior. Hopefully we all emerge from this smarter and more compassionate toward all beings of the earth.

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  • I remember visiting this magnificent place in Seville a few years ago. Beautiful photos!

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  • The silver lining of Covid19: For a brief moment in time, the audiences and the bullfighters will stay home, and the torros will live another day, another week.

    I appreciate the fine line you weave between being open to learning about the culturally strong bullfighting culture that emanated from Spain, and not wanting to be part of the spectacle of death that is inherent in the cultural activity.

    Great quote on traveling and the argument that “a good traveller is heartless”. Not sure I completely agree with that, because there is a persistent line, no matter where and why so culturally, where animals become abused.

    I find myself constantly on the other side of this debate between the traveller’s detached observation of abuse and the passionate defense of animal rights and persistent global human tendency to subjucate and mistreat animals all around us. For example, my taking on our Vietnamese neighbor’s mistreatment of two adorable puppies because, you know, it’s culturally ok to eat dog in our part of the world, Not being heartless, I engaged, cajoled and convinced the owner into letting me find a new home for the puppies. And rerouted these puppies from the cookpot to a loving home. They survived to live another day.

    So a resolute no on being a good traveller if that means being heartless with regard to mistreatment of animals.

    Peta

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    • Thank you for all of your thoughts, Peta. I appreciate your perspective and admire you for patiently sharing your belief with your neighbor in Vietnam, ultimately saving two lives in the process. Living in a foreign country provides time and opportunities for presenting alternate points of view outside what is culturally learned and carried on. For me, this is sometimes a frustration of traveling (vs. living) — that interactions tend to be brief and there’s little to no chance of productively communicating about things we disagree with. To me personally, “heartless” in the quote means there can be acknowledgement but not necessarily agreement (and sometimes even extreme disagreement) about things we may see or experience while traveling. But we keep traveling despite these differences, and hope we can learn, educate each other and do better with any chance we get, much like you did with your neighbor. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. Hope you’re enjoying the weekend in Mexico.

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  • You’ve brought me squarely into the ring today, and I love it! I had no idea these places were so pristine — fresh paint, bold colors, and neat as a pin. I really, really wanna go here!

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    • Squarely… great word! Happy to hear you enjoyed my photo tour of the ring. No animals were harmed, thankfully. Just pretty colors and nice views. The whole city is stunning in addition to the ring. I really, really just want to go back! 🙂

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  • Great photos Kelly. What an amazing building. It has such grandeur! I loved seeing a bit more about bullfighting – especially in Spain where it began, but it does remind me of ancient Roman gladiator games – kill or be killed by a lion. So much cruelty. Don and I went to a bullfight in Peru (Ollantaytambo I think) and left as soon as the picadors came into the ring and started sticking the picks into the bull’s back. We couldn’t bear to watch it.
    Alison

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    • Thank you, Alison! It’s odd to think there’s even a demand for bullfighting — I’ve never met anyone who supports it but then again, I don’t live in a country where it’s popular. Would be interesting to know what the demographic is. In any case, the bullring was incredible — and could be used for so many other things, too if not for bullfighting. Maybe someday!

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  • Seville was one of our favorite stops when we were in Spain, but we only drove past the stadium. Thanks for the closer look, sans blood in the sand.

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