Seville: Into the Ring
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.
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.
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.
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.