Man vs. Bull

Yes, we went to a bull fight. And no, the bull wasn’t killed at the end.

In Portugal, the art of bullfighting is very different than in Spanish countries – one of the many differences the Portuguese point out between them and their nearest neighbor.

This is an ancient sport (?) and even the metro platform helps build the anticipation of an evening in Lisbon’s lovely old arena, built in 1890.

It was modernized in 2006 and its lower levels feature shops and a food court that rival any American mall. And the fast food was just as popular.

The house was packed, with lots of dignitaries in attendance. The show began with very formal and evidently quite traditional ceremonies, led by a very young man with incredible horsemanship.

The carriages contained the stars of the show – other than the bulls. The real drama is provided by the cavalleiros, horsemen dressed in traditional 18th century costumes who fight the bull from horseback. The horses are specially trained for the fights, and are expert in dressage.

The bandarilheiros are the cavaleiro’s helpers in the arena, holding the gold/pink cape to distract or position the bull.

The purpose of this fight is to stab three or four small javelins in the back of the bull. While some blood is evident, it’s clear the bulls leave the ring angry, but quite stable.

The drama is in the ways the cavalleiros engage with the bull, taking risks that only incredible horses and horsemanship make possible, as they try to jab the bull. Amazing to watch.

And then there are the crazy forcados, a  group of eight men who challenge the bull directly, without any protection or weapon of defense after the cavelliero has done his thing. The front man provokes the bull into a charge, grabbing the animal’s head as it is about to spear him. He is quickly aided by his fellows who surround and secure the animal until he is subdued. It certainly reminded us of the Minoan sport of bull jumping, so guess there’s really nothing new under the sun. After the front man is removed from the bull, another forcado holds on its tail and gets dragged around in circles. After the bull is sufficiently dazed, he walks away nonchalantly with his back to the bull.

No explaining some sports.

We saw three rounds of “fights” so we are now fully conversant with bull fighting, Portuguese style. Rest assured that’s all you will hear on the subject!


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