Bullfighting is the national spectacle of Spain and Mexico and it is also popular in some South and Central American countries. Perhaps the origin of bullfighting may be found in prehistoric times when cave dwellers used the skin of an animal to distract charging wild bulls, which once roamed Europe.
Ancestors of the modern fighting bull are depicted in the cave paintings at Aitamira, Spain. A more formal version of such a contest is depicted in a wail painting unearthed at Knossos in Crete, dating from about 2000 B.C. It shows male and female acrobats confronting a bull, grabbing its horns as it charges and vaulting over its back.
Bullfighting was also a popular spectcle in ancient Rome, but it was in the Iberian Penninsula that these contests were fully developed. The Moors from North Africa who overran Andalusia in A.D. 711 changed bullfighting significantly from the brutish, formless spectacle practiced by the conquered Visigoths to a ritualistic occasion observed in connection with feast days, on which the conquering Moors, skilled riders, mounted on highly trained horses, confronted and killed the bulls.
As bullfighting developed, the men on foot, who by their capework aided the horsemen in positioning the bulls, began to draw more attention from the crowd watching the fight, and the modern corrida began to take form.
Today the bullfight is much the same as it has been since about 1726 when Francisco Romero of Rhonda, Spain, introduced the use of the sword and the small worsted cape.
To its adherents, bullfighting is an exciting and colorful ceremony. To many, however it is considered cruel. It has been outlawed in many countries.
Nearly every large town in Spain has its own bull ring where fights are held on feast days and especially set Sunday afternoons. Usually six bulls are required for one afternoon's corrida.
At the appointed hours, generally at five o'clock in the afternoon, the corrida starts. Three matadors enter the ring followed by assistants, banderilieros and picadors. They march into the ring to the accompaniment of traditional paso dobie music, or march rhythm.
The matadors are the stars of the show and can be paid as high as the equivalent of $25,000 for each corrida. They wear distinctive costumes consisting of silk jackets heavily embroidered in gold, skintight pants and monteras, which are bicorne hats. The outfits called "suits of lights," can cost many thousands of dollars each. A top matador must have at least six of them each season.
A star matador will fight as many as 100 corridas each year. The great Mexican matador Carlos Arruza once fought 33 times in a single month.
Although most matadors are men, many women have also become bullfighters, including the American Patricia McCormick.