22 Apr, 2015 @ 18:32
2 mins read

Sadness and elation in Granada’s Plaza de Toros

granada bullfight

granada-bullfightTHE corrida de toros in Granada last Sunday was an intense, emotional experience – one which left me feeling totally stirred up for hours afterwards and well into the next day.

Its highlight was El Cordobes’ performance with the 3rd bull (in a corrida, three matadors kills two bulls each). This is not a blog on the corrida’s structure, but very briefly: each matador’s performance is divided up into three acts, the last of which is called the faena. This final act lasts around ten minutes and reaches its climax with the death of the bull.

It is during the faena that the matador is meant to create as much emotion and drama as he can, by drawing the bull ever closer to him via interlinked series of passes that demonstrate both his artistry and skill, and the strength and bravery of the bull. If a great faena concludes with a good kill  – that is to say, with a single sword thrust delivered over the top of the bull’s lowered horns, resulting in almost instantaneous death – it can be intensely moving, in a way that bears comparison to no other art or spectacle (or barbaric relic that should be abolished: call it what you will). It is hard to describe the emotions that a good feana stirs up – and El Cordobes delivered one hell of a faena last Sunday. As I walked away from the arena that evening, I felt both saddened and elated by what I am about to describe.

He chose to perform his faena on the side of the ring I was sitting on, feet away from the barrier – perhaps because friends or family were also on that side. I was, therefore, metres away from the action. At the beginning of the faena, El Cordobes worked the bull away from the centre over to the barrier, gesturing to it to follow him. This bull still had plenty of spirit left and charged the muleta with great vigour every time it was asked to. Once he had the animal where he wanted it, El Cordobes really started performing. I could hear him talking to the bull throughout his mesmerising faena, coaxing it into and through his beautifully flowing passes with cries of ‘Toro!’.

He used this single word in a variety of different ways, as if to express encouragement or provocation one moment, and praise the next. The crowd saw and felt that something special was happening, and El Cordobes knew it: now in total control of the bull, he would bring it to a halt after a series of passes and passionately gesture to the stands for encouragement, which he received in the form of deafening yells of ‘Torero, torero!’ and almost constant applause. The band was playing now, adding to the emotion and the drama: El Cordobes brought the bull so close to him that you could see the blood on his costume. Clouds of sand rose up from the arena floor during series of passes that were audacious and flashy, while others were quietly eloquent, almost intimate. The drama and the emotion steadily increased, accompanied by the music and the roars of the crowd, many now on their feet, as he brought this brutal, beautiful dance ever closer to its conclusion.

Once he’d got the bull in position, El Cordobes brought the sword up to head-height and aimed along its length for a point in the bull’s shoulders about the size of a 50 pence piece. The raucous and anarchic crowd, who had been whipped into ecstasy by the faena, suddenly went silent. Hisses of ‘Sssshh!’ went around the stands: this moment is both vitally important and potentially lethal for the matador.

In seconds, it was all over: Cordobes gave the cape a sharp twitch, the bull charged for the final time and, with an audible slap, the sword was slammed in up to its hilt between the animal’s shoulders. The stunned animal was now dead on its feet and the crowd lost control completely, flailing white hankerchiefs to show they thought a triumph had occurred. I looked on, speechless, as El Cordobes took a lap of honour around the ring, holding aloft his bloody trophies: the bull’s two ears, cut off to mark his great success that evening in Granada’s imperious Plaza de Toros.

Mark Nayler

Mark Nayler is a journalist and writer who has written for Spear's Magazine, The New Statesman, The Times and The Legal 500. He has recently relocated to Granada from London to write for English language publications covering the south of Spain and will be a regular contributor to The Olive Press.

A selection of Mark's published writings can be found on his website, at www.marknayler.com


  1. I have to second Albert’s comments – and again – shame on you OP and also Mark Nayler. There is absolutely NO justification in encouraging the continuation of this “sport” – and paying for tickets, going along, and then being left in a state of “elation” thereafter.

    You will probably wish to glorify Franco’s exploits next, I guess….

  2. Sick and barbaric…………what kind of people enjoy seeing a poor animal tortured, tormented, in pain then killed. This is NOT a sport or entertainment it is beyond evil. Some will say it is Spanish culture, maybe so many years ago but surely not now. We are supposed to live in a civil world ??????

  3. i am Spanish and I agree completely with Albert Yome. We aré working to get ríd of this and we do not need any foreigners on top to agree with a few demented Spanish left.

  4. Thank you to everyone who has commented on my article so far, though I would ask that the slightly hysterical tone of the objections be cooled down a little.

    If there is to be any proper debate about the place of the corrida in Spain, both sides must get to grips, firstly, with its moral ambiguity. I allude to this crucial ambiguity in the piece, when I say I was both saddened and elated by what I saw. Any enjoyment I derive from the corrida is emphatically not because I take pleasure in suffering – and I know I speak for the vast majority of people who appreciate it when I say that. Such accusations, therefore, are simply false. But I would argue that the artistic element justifies the death of the animal, yes. In a similar way, non-vegetarians implicitly collude with the killing of animals for their gastronomic pleasure when they buy meat from their local supermarket.

    Also, a lack of understanding of the corrida’s current popularity is displayed in the comment that suggests it is now just the treasured relic of a few ‘demented’ old supporters of Franco. Here, I suspect, wishful thinking has been conflated with what is actually the case – because this is not true. Granada’s bullring was packed on Sunday evening with people of every age and social class. In May in Madrid there is a bullfight every day, and tickets are notoriously difficult to get hold of. Every day, that is, Las Ventas is filled with around 25,000 people who pay to see the corrida. That’s approximately 775,000 people who pay to see it in one month, in one city in Spain.

    Please keep the comments coming, and I will reply to as many as I can.

    • Mark, just because lots of people attend bull-baiting/torture sessions does not confer credibility on the practice. Public executions would have just as many ghouls in the audience. Your snidey aside, accusing commenters of hysteria does you absolutely no credit. Those people simply, hate and despise what you are praising.
      Have a word with yourself buddy.

  5. Shame on Olive Press for employing someone to write about a barbaric tradition. No matter if the article had another aspect to it. The author has since proved himself to be a shameless demagogue as well by equating torturing of animals to raising and killing them humanely for food.
    Mr Nayler should not write for this publication again.

  6. I don’t think the comments are hysterical. Just because a lot of people attended doesn’t make it ok. In fact a lot of the audience are probably tourists and people like yourself who have just arrived and naively are looking for glamour and justification for the cruelty. Thumbs down to Olive Press for this.

  7. One of the most elementary rules of argument and debate, guys, is never resort to the ad hominem. It ruins your case and essentially concedes the fight. And given that that’s precisely what most people here are doing there’s little point me writing anything further, but a few of things need to be addressed straight away.

    Firstly, I see Onur is advocating press censorship. How far does this extend, I wonder? To people writing in appreciation or support of anything he disagrees with? His desire, it would seem, is for all those who study and appreciate the corrida, and who write about it, to be silenced…. The intellectual poverty and mindless censoriousness of this position has gone entirely unremarked upon, for some reason.

    So long as the corrida exists, and so long as there are people who understand nothing about it but who are hell-bent on banning it, then I – and many others – will carry on trying to understand it, and will speak out for it. And so long as we do so in free, civilised countries, then the press will publish our writing. If you don’t like that then – tough. Both sides in this debate need to be heard, and I would never ask that those who oppose the corrida be silenced.

    And, to Marion: I have indeed only been living in Spain for 6 weeks. But I have been fascinated and troubled by the corrida ever since I saw my first at the age of about 12 in the south of France. Since then, I have not only attended the corrida as and when I can, I have read books about it, I have thought deeply about it and spent hours and hours discussing it, both with others who appreciate it and with those passionately opposed to it. And I will keep on doing so. I hope, therefore, that I cannot be charged with being wet behind the ears with regard to this subject.

    And to everybody else: maybe just take a deep breath, read a book or two about the corrida, maybe even go and see one – then see what you think.

    • Mr Nayler, if you need more than a decade of going to bullfights, reading books about it and have discussions with people and still don’t realise that this is a barbaric tradition that doesn’t belong in the 21st century, than Sir, you are a primitive man who is bereft of civilisation, just like the rest of the Spanish people that pay to see an animal mocked and TORTURED.

  8. I am not sure that those of the “professionally outraged” should be bullying (pun not intended) the author of this piece. It is far more offensive that we live in a world where journalists can be harassed, intimidated and worse, for writing something that people do not like.
    Whilst I absolutely can see that bullfighting divides opinion, I think it entirely appropriate that pieces are written on the topic, which is undeniably an iconic part of Spanish culture (and Southern Spanish culture in particular).
    Personally I found the piece very well written and entirely clear in the way it highlighted the mix of emotions and reactions stirred by the spectacle. That is public interest journalism, in contrast to the intemperate polemic of the more vocal opponents in this comment section.

    • We (or I, at least) have nothing against the author’s or the OP’s freedom of speech. We were merely expressing our annoyance at Olive Press (which we consider a modern publication for modern people) allowing a piece putting a barbaric tradition in a positive light, a tradition which many call “The Shame of Spain”. So we too were exercising our right to freedom of speech.
      P.S. Bullfighting IS actually banned in parts of Spain, namely Catalonia, arguably the most modern region of the country.

  9. Sorry …..this justification Spaniards have in making an art out of torturing and showing their machismo in killing a bull in this fashion, should be outlawed! Yes…shame on Olive Press for glorifying it!

  10. Personally I find it disturbing and would not support Bullfighting on the other hand I do support fox hunting in the UK, maybe different cultures.
    What I do find strange though is how quick expats are to jump to the defense of animals in Spain, they have houses full of stray dogs, fields of donkeys and vehemently criticize the Spanish for being cruel to animals while back in the UK child abuse, child cruelty, neglect and child hunger are rife non of which are as bad in Spain.
    I am not supporting animal cruelty, I think this just shows the values of differing cultures, and where they feel their priority’s lie.

  11. i know this is off subject but please dont assume that child abuse, cruelty etc doesnt exist in Spain …its just more hidden here. There are people campaigning for it to be more openly recognised.

  12. Well done and bravely written. I saw El Cordóbes last summer in Berja, Almería and, like with you, he also fought a bull just by the ring where I was sitting. He played to the audience – simple country folk, not cultured city types like the (apparent) readership here – and captivated them. He is a brave and capable matador.

  13. The actual description of your paid bull-goader should read “cruel and stupid” and the audience “gormless and bloodthirsty.” Both descriptions just as valid as yours.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

emoji e
Previous Story

Worldwide emoji survey finds Spaniards are the biggest party animals

Golden sprayer e
Next Story

The Axarquia golden sprayer’s punishment causes dispute between Malaga and Rincon de la Victoria

Latest from Mark Nayler: Our Man in Granada

Juan Jose Padilla goring

Arguing about the bullfight

When I wrote a piece on Granada’s first corrida of the season a few weeks ago, I knew that it would provoke reaction, and I
albaicin e

Falling for Granada

There is a mystery about Granada, a soul and personality that has as much to do with its history as with the people who now
granada by night e

From London to Granada

Sometimes something in your life is not quite right, and a big change is called for. For me, that change was moving to Granada, one
Go toTop

More From The Olive Press