FAQ's (Frequently asked Questions)
for Spanish Style Bullfighting

What is the difference between a corrida and a novillada ?

In a corrida the bulls are aged at least four years old (toros) whereas in a novillada the bulls are only aged at least three years old (novillos). The term bullfight can be applied to either a corrida or a novillada.

What is a torero ?

This is a generic term and can refer to anyone taking part in the bullfight. It should not be confused with "toreador" which does not exist in modern bullfighting, being popularised by Bizet in his opera "Carmen".

What is the difference between a matador and a novillero ?

Matadors have taken the alternativa, a ceremony in which they are proposed and seconded by two other matadors and thereby graduate from novillero to matador. A novillero can only fight novillos whereas a matador can fight both toros or novillos but because of his standing, usually only fights novillos in a festival. Matadors are sometimes referred to as "espadas" (swords) or "diestros" (experts).

What is a festival ?

A festival is a bullfight in which the matador or novillero do not wear the traditional "suit of lights" (traje de luces) but traje corto, a suit similar to that worn in the countryside by the bull ranchers. In a festival, it is customary for the tips of the bulls' horns to be taken off so they are "desenpuntados". A bull with horns intact is "en punto".

What is afeitado ?

This literally means "shaved". It refers to an illegal practice whereby the bull breeder is bribed to take off the tip of the bull's horns and then files them back to a point. As the bull uses its horns in a way a cat does its whiskers to measure distance, in theory this means it should always fall short when trying to catch the torero. It should be pointed out however that there have been many serious gorings involving bulls which have been shaved. Manolete, one of the all-time greats, was supposedly killed by a such a bull.

What is a tercio ?

There are three tercios (thirds) to both novilladas and corridas. The first tercio involves the caping of the bull by the matador or novillero and the act of the picador; the second tercio is the act of banderillas and the final tercio consists of the faena and the death of the bull.

What is a picador ?

In the first tercio, the picador uses a pica (also known as a vara) which is a lance with a steel point (puya) from on horseback to weaken the bull's neck muscles so that its head is lowered for the kill. Picadors are not used in some novilladas which are referred to as "novilladas sin picadores" (novilladas without picadors). These are usually for novilleros who have just started out.

What is a banderillero ?

A banderillero is a torero who works in the team (cuadrilla) of a matador or novillero and in the second tercio places the banderillas (barbed sticks), into the bulls back. After charging the picador's horse, a bull can be tired and the banderillas are supposed to enliven it for the final part of the bullfight. Some matadors and novilleros place their own banderillas. If a bull refuses to charge the picador, banderillas negras (black banderillas) may be used which are longer and heavier with bigger barbs. It is considered shameful to the bull breeder if these have to be used but they are rarely called upon nowadays.

What is the difference between a capote and a muleta ?

A capote is a big work cape, magenta on the outside and yellow (sometimes blue) on the inside. It is used by all the toreros but in the final tercio the matador or novillero will change it for the muleta, made from red flannel on a wooden stick, which he will use for the faena.

What is a faena ?

A faena is all the work done with a muleta by a matador or novillero in the final and most important tercio of the bullfight. A matador has ten minutes from the start of the tercio in which to kill the bull. If, after this time it is still alive, the President will order an aviso (warning) to be sounded. A second aviso is sounded after a further three minutes and a third and final aviso after a further two minutes. After three avisos steers are let into the ring to take the bull out alive and it is regarded as a great disgrace to a matador's reputation.

What is a brindis ?

Before commencing the faena, the matador or novillero will doff his montera (hat) to the president of the bullring (an official appointed by law to supervise the bullfight) and ask permission to kill the bull. He may then offer a brindis (salute) and dedicate the death of the bull to someone in the audience, another torero or the whole audience itself. If the brindis is to one person, he will give them his montera for the duration of the faena, sometimes throwing it over his shoulder. If it is to the whole crowd he will lay his montera down in the centre of the ring or throw it over his shoulder for luck. If it lands upside down in the sand it is considered unlucky.

How is the bull killed ?

At the end of the faena the matador or novillero will attempt to place a sword (estoque) between the shoulder blades of the bull which is meant to sever the aorta. This thrust is known as an estocada. If this fails to bring the bull down, he will use another sword with a crosspiece near its end (descabello) to sever the bull's spinal cord with a thrust just behind the back of its head. As soon as the bull is down, a banderillero will jab a small knife (puntilla) into this area as a coup de grace.

What is an indulto ?

If a bull has shown exceptional bravery and the crowd petition the president of the bullring before it is killed, he will grant an indulto (pardon) and spare the bull's life. The kill is then simulated using a banderilla or an empty hand. The bull will usually then become a semental (stud bull).

What happens to the bull once it is dead ?

A team of mules or horses drag the carcase out of the ring to butchers waiting outside and it is sold as meat. Sometimes a brave performance by a bull will result in the crowd petitioning the president after it has been killed for it to be given a vuelta (lap) of the ring. The bull's carcase is then dragged around the ring by a team of horses or mules to the applause of the crowd and it is a great honour for the bull's breeder.

What are trofeos ?

Trofeos (trophies) are awarded to the matador or novillero following an outstanding performance. In order of precedence they are as follows. With the consent of the crowd, he might take a lap around the ring (vuelta). If the majority of the crowd petition the President, usually by way of waving white hankerchiefs (panuelos), he has to award one ear (una oreja). If the crowd petitions and the President himself considers that the performance has been outstanding, he may award two ears (dos orejas). If the president considers the performance to have been exceptional, he will award two ears and a tail (dos orejas y rabo) also known as "los maximos trofeos". The trofeos are cut from the dead bull and presented to the matador or novillero who then takes one or more vuelta of the ring. If he has cut at least two ears in the whole bullfight, he is entitled to be carried out of the ring on the shoulders of the crowd (salida en hombros).

What is a cartel ?

A cartel is a poster advertising a bullfight but also refers to the collection of matadors or novilleros who will appear. Normally there are three matadors or novilleros who will fight two bulls each. The most senior will appear at the top of the list and will fight the first and third bulls. The second-most senior appears second and fights the second and fifth bull and the junior appears bottom of the list and fights the third and sixth bull. Seniority is decided by the date when a matador took the alternativa, or when a novillero first fought in a novillada with picadors. If only two matadors or novilleros are appearing, it is known as a "mano a mano" (hand to hand) and they will fight three bulls each. Occasionally a matador or novillero will appear alone (en solitario/unica espada) and fight all six bulls. If there is a combination of matadors and novilleros or rejoneadors on the same cartel it is known as a "corrida mixta" (mixed corrida). Some carteles announce a string of bullfights for a whole "feria" (fair) held to celebrate local festivities, during which there will usually be a bullfight each day.

What is a rejoneador ?

A rejoneador fights the bull from horseback in the style of the Portuguese "cavaleiros" using rejones de castigo (punishment spears) in place of a pica, banderillas and a rejon de muerte (spear of death) in place of an estoque. If he fails to kill the bull with the rejon de muerte, he must dismount and use a descabello. A rejoneador can fight either toros or novillos and also takes an alternativa to graduate to the former. A bullfight with a cartel comprised entirely of rejoneadores is known as a rejoneo. It is also customary for the tips of the bulls' horns to be taken off or in Portugal to be covered with leather cases to give added protection to the horses.

What are forcados ?

Forcados appear in Portuguese bullfights and line up in teams wearing bright suits, taking the bull's frontal charge and catch it by the horns in an atttempt to bring it to a complete halt. They appear in a separate performance after the cavaleiro has finished with the bull. In past times the bullring had a staircase to the Royal Box and forcados were employed to ensure that the bull did not enter the stairs. To assist them they used a pole (approx 1.7m long) with a half-moon of steel at the top. This was called a "forcado" (meaning something close to "fork") and it is from there the name comes. Nowadays they only use it in the "cortesias", the Portuguese name for "paseillo" or in historical demonstrations. After the forcados have finished, the bull is led out of the ring alive, but is killed later in the corrals of the bullring.

What is the escalafon ?

The escalafon is a league table and there is one each for matadors, novilleros and rejoneadores. Success is not measured by the number of ears cut but by the number of fights fought, as a successful torero will be one who is in demand and thereby will be awarded the most contracts. The "lider del escalafon" (league leader) is often also known as "El Numero Uno" (Number One).

What is a plaza de toros ?

A bullring. As the sun will predominantly shine on one side of the ring, that section is known as the "Sol" (Sun) and seats are cheaper there. The side predominently in the shade is known as the "Sombra" (shade). During the fight there will be areas where the sun will go down and also areas where the sun may appear. These may be sold as "Sol y Sombra", cheaper than the Sombra but more expensive than the Sol. The biggest bullring in the world is the Plaza Monumental in Mexico City. The biggest bullring in Europe is the Plaza Monumental de Las Ventas in Madrid. Spanish bullrings are categorised into first, second and third-class. The "plazas de primera" are Madrid, Seville, Barcelona, Valencia, Cordoba, Zaragoza and Bilbao. "Plazas de segunda" are mainly capitals of provinces and the rest are third- class. Although Pamplona is officially second-class, that and the Roman arena in the French city of Nimes are regarded by many aficionados as first-class in all but name.

Why are there two white rings painted in the arena ?

The picador has to remain outside the outer circle to receive the bull's charge in the first tercio and the toreros must station the bull inside the inner circle before it can charge the picador.

What is a sorteo ?

A sorteo is literally "a drawing of lots". On the day of the bullfight, usually at noon, representatives of the matadors or novilleros will attend the corral of the bullring to decide which of the string of bulls will be fought by their employer. Bulls are sometimes matched up for instance so that the heaviest and the lightest, the one with the biggest horns and the one with the smallest horns, etc are put together in pairs. The numbers of the bulls are written on pieces of paper and placed in a hat and the representatives draw one out each which decides which bulls their employer will fight. Following the sorteo is the "apartado" (separating) of the bulls into individual pens where they are left until they are required in the bullfight.

Why does the bull have a "rosette" on its back when it enters the ring ?

All bulls are bred on ganaderias (ranches) which specialise in fighting bulls (toros de lidia). Each rancher (ganadero) makes his own distinctive notches in the bulls' ears, has his own branded insignia and his own colours. The rosette (divisa) shows the colours of the ranch which bred the bull and has a small barb on it. Just before the bull enters the ring via the toril gate, it is inserted into its hide using a long spring-loaded pole. The most famous ganaderia is that of the infamous Miura bulls from Seville.

What is an encierro ?

An encierro is where bulls are run through the streets and corredores (runners) attempt to run in front and alongside them as closely as possible. The most famous encierros are held in Pamplona but they are also held in Logroño, San Sebastian de Los Reyes, Cuellar, Tudela, Tolosa and elsewhere. The bulls in the Pamplona encierros are the actual bulls that will be fought that afternoon although this may not be the case in other places.

How are bullfight results reported ?

Usually in the Spanish press the date, venue and breed of bulls are given followed by the matadors or novilleros in order of seniority and against each one are two comments (three comments in case of a mano a mano and six comments in the case of a solo performance). The first comment refers to their performance with their first bull and the second comment relates to their performance with their second bull, etc. Comments in order of precedence range from "dos orejas y rabo simbolicas" (two symbolic ears and a tail, the bull's life having been pardoned for bravery), "dos orejas y rabo" (two ears and a tail) "dos orejas" (two ears), "una oreja" (one ear), "vuelta" (lap of the ring), "ovacion" (standing ovation), "aplausos" (applause), "saludos" (salutations), "palmas" (polite handclapping), "silencio" (silence), "pitos" (whistles), "bronca" (venomous protest, sometimes accompanied by throwing of cushions (almohadillas) into the ring). There is also "division de opiniones" (division of opinions) where some of the crowd think the performance was acceptable, others not. A performance could be reported with "con peticion" (with petition) for example "oreja con peticion", where the crowd demanded the next trophy up (two ears) but the President would not allow it. Sometimes a section of the crowd will object to a trophy being awarded so it may be reported as "oreja con protestas" (ear with protests). On these occasions a matador may choose not to take a lap of the ring. Some reports of bullfights continue with performances and weights of the bulls, the size of the crowd, the weather and any particular incidents of note. There may then follow a full article on the bullfight in question describing the different passes used, etc.

What is a feria ?

A feria (fair) is usually held in most Spanish towns and cities to celebrate a particular religious feast day and there are usually an accompanying bullfight or bullfights helds. Some ferias such as Pamplona's feria of San Fermin are held on fixed dates whereas others such as Seville's April Fair depend on when a religious feast day falls, in Seville's case, Easter. The cities of Madrid and Seville usually have bullfights every Sunday during the whole season and Barcelona has them every Sunday during July and August. However these fights seldom attract the best matadors as they will be appearing at ferias. Below is a list of the major Spanish ferias which usually last for at least a week and which will all have a least one bullfight per day. As most ferias start and/or culminate on a Sunday, some of the dates will vary slightly. Carteles might only be announced two or three weeks in advance.

  • Castellon (La Magdalena - either week before, same week or week after Las Fallas), Valencia (Fallas - 10 to 19 March), Seville (April Fair - Sunday following Easter Sunday for two weeks), Jerez de la Frontera (Feria del Caballo - sometime in May depending upon Easter), Madrid (San Isidro - 1 to 30 May), Cordoba (19 to 27 May), Granada (Corpus Christi - First week in June), Alicante (San Juan - week in which 24 June falls), Badajoz (San Juan - week in which 24 June falls), Burgos (26 to 29 June), Algeciras (27 June to 1 July), Pamplona (San Fermin 6 to 14 July), Santander (San Jaime - week in which 25 July falls), Valencia (San Jaime - week in which 25 July falls), Huelva (Colombinas - 1 to 5 August), Vitoria (Virgen Blanca - 4 to 8 August), Malaga (14 to 25 August), Almeria (Virgen del Mar - 25 to 31 August), Bilbao (Semana Grande - 19 to 26 August), Murcia (11 to 20 September), Albacete (9 to 16 September), Salamanca (12 to 22 September), Valladolid (San Mateo - week in which 26 September falls), Logrono (San Mateo - week in which 26 September falls), Zaragoza (El Pilar - week in which 12 October falls), Jaen (last week in October).
  • Madrid, Seville, and Valencia all have "mini-ferias" of around three days each to mark the end of the season at the end of October.

What is a Peña (pronounced penya) ?

A peña is a body of friends or club. A peña taurina is a body of friends or club devoted to bullfighting and in countries where bullfighting takes place there is usually at least one in each town. There are also peñas in other countries such as the USA (Taurine Bibliophiles of America; Club Taurino of New York; Los Aficionados de Los Angeles; Peña Sol y Sombra de San Francisco; Club Taurino of Chicago; Los Aficionados de New England; Los Aficionados de New Orleans; Barrera Taurina El Paso; Club Taurino de Chula Vista; Peña Taurina de Colorado; Peña "La Fiesta Brava" de Pasadenas), Great Britain (Peña Fiesta Brava Manchester; Club Taurino of London), Sweden (Peña Los Suecos), Holland (Peña Holanda), Italy (Club Taurino de Milan; Peña "Los Italianos"), Germany (Peña Borussia), Norway (Peña Los Noruegos), Denmark (Peña Dinamarca).

Listed below are Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on Bullfights