Portuguese bullfighting: controversy and pageantry
April 06, 2023
Portuguese bullfighting, also known as "corrida de touros" or "tourada" is a traditional cultural event in Portugal that dates back centuries. Unlike Spanish bullfighting, which involves killing the bull, Portuguese bullfighting is considered a more refined sport. Portuguese bullfighting also has a long and growingly controversial history, and its future remains uncertain. Its origins can be traced back to ancient times, with the Portuguese nobility embracing the tradition by the 18th century.
The tourada itself takes place in a large, circular arena called a "praça de touros." The bullfighter, or "cavaleiro," rides a well trained horse and showcases the horse's agility and skill.
In addition to the cavaleiro, there are also two other participants in a Portuguese bullfight: the "forcados" and the "quadrilha." The forcados are a group of eight men who stand in a line and try to grab the bull by its horns, wrestling it to a standstill without harming it or themselves. The quadrilha are assistants to the cavaleiro and help to distract and manage the bull with capes.
The objective of the cavaleiros is to place a series of spears, called "ferros", on the bull's back muscle. These ferros have small hooks on the end, which stick into the bull's skin and cause it to bleed. The cavaleiros also perform various movements and tricks with their horses, demonstrating their skill and bravery.
After the cavaleiros have finished, a group of bullfighters on foot, known as "forcados", enter the arena. Their job is to call the bull and get it to charge them, while avoiding its attacks. Then, in line, they wrestle it to a standstill. The bull is then led out of the arena and returned to the fields.
It's worth noting that there are significant differences between Portuguese bullfighting and the more better-known Spanish bullfighting. In Portuguese bullfighting, the bull is not killed in the arena and the cavaleiro (or cavaleira, as women now ride in the arena as well) is mounted on horseback. Instead of a matador, the cavaleiros take turns performing in the arena. Additionally, the focus is less on the bullfighter's artistry and more on the horsemanship. The cavaleiros are dressed in traditional clothing and are mounted on horses, which are specially trained to avoid the bull's attacks.
But, today Portuguese bullfighting is a subject of controversy , with animal rights groups condemning the practice as cruel and inhumane. Despite this, it remains a popular tradition in Southern Portugal.
From North to South are different perspectives on the current state of bullfighting. Some point out that the popularity of bullfighting has been declining in Portugal for years, while others contend that it remains an important ancient cultural tradition in certain regions of the country.
Indeed, there has been a decline in the number of bullfights held in Portugal in recent years. According to the Portuguese Association of Bullfighting Professionals, there were 232 bullfights held in 2019, compared to 320 in 2010. This decrease can be attributed to a combination of factors, including changing cultural attitudes, animal welfare concerns, and declining interest from younger generations. Numerous bullrings have closed in small towns and northern cities. And, many towns have banned the Festa Brava.
But cross the Tejo River, and there are still many people who are passionate about Portuguese bullfighting. In some regions of Portugal, such as the Azores, ribatejo and Alentejo, bullfighting remains a popular and deeply ingrained tradition. Every town has a ring, and the tourada is part of summer festivals. The main cities where bullfighting takes place in Portugal are Lisbon, Santarém, and Évora.
Once tourists flocked to rings, interested in experiencing this cultural tradition, but today that is not the case. Lisbon's Campo Pequeno, once the top ring in Portugal, now hosts concerts and trade shows - with fewer bullfights each year.
Portuguese bullfighting remains a controversial practice, with many animal rights activists arguing that it should be banned. However, supporters of the tradition argue that it is an important part of Portuguese culture and history.
You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.