The Bullfight: La Corrida


When the Spanish arrived in the Yucatán, they brought many of their traditions. One of these was the bullfight, or La Corrida, which has remained popular to this day. There are two major bullrings or plazas de toros in the Yucatán, one located in Mérida and the other in Motul, with many makeshift arenas in smaller towns.

La Corrida evolved from the rituals of ancient animal sacrifice featuring bulls, a symbol of virility. The earliest accounts can be found in the writings of Plato in his tale of Atlantis. In Spain, these rituals developed into a training regimen for medieval combat. A public display of bullfighting was usually associated with a saint's feast day, or fiesta, when an entire town expected to be entertained and fed. The local rancher or ganaderio provided bulls, the aristocratic cavaliers demonstrated the art of combat, and the local villagers lent their cheer and appetites. Today, La Corrida is usually held on a Sunday afternoon. Three bullfighters or Toreros, or Matadores, fight two bulls each for a total of six bulls. Each bullfight is divided into three acts called terceros.

In the first tercero, the bull is released into the ring where the Peones or assistants, under the direction of the Torero, use their capes to test the bull's behavior. The Torero then calls for the Picadores, two men on armored horses with lances who weaken the bull by piercing its back between the shoulder blades. This is done to make the bull safer to approach and to allow for a quicker kill in the final tercio.

In the second tercero, the Torero calls for the Banderillos. These three men approach on foot, often imitating the behavior of bulls. Each Banderillo decorates the bull with two hook-tipped spears wrapped in brightly colored ribbons.

During the final tercero, the Torero uses his yellow and pink cape and a wooden sword to work closely with the bull in a series of moves like a dance. You will hear the crowd shout "olé!" when the bull passes particularly close to the Torero. This is the most elegant and refined part of the bullfight and is the subject of much art, song, and literature, such as Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon.

When the Torero senses that the bull is tired, he exchanges his cape and wooden sword for a smaller red muleta and a steel sword, the espalda. The Torero thrusts the espalda between the bull's shoulder blades and into its heart for a quick death.

During a bullfight, you will hear the crowd cheer and applaud valiant or well-executed maneuvers by man or bull. You may also hear boos, taunts and whistling when the crowd is not pleased. At the end of a fight, some might wave white rags signifying that the Torero should be awarded one or two of the bull's ears, and perhaps even a tail. 

The bull, too, may be awarded, either with a dignified procession of its body from the ring (arrastre lento) or by a pardon (indulti). On most occasions, however, the bull is killed and its body is taken from the ring, quickly skinned, quartered and sent to market as beef.

La Corrida is not for everybody. We neither endorse nor condemn this tradition, as it is simply a distinct part of our Spanish heritage. But before you attend your first bullfight, you should ask yourself if you would travel in a time machine to witness similar spectacles, such as a medieval jousting contest in England or a ritual Mayan sacrifice at Chichén Itzá.

You will pay between $15 and $50 USD for tickets to attend La Corrida in Mérida or Motul, and slightly more in Cancún where there is also a Plaza del Toros. Bullfighting season is generally in the winter, between November and April. For the best experience at La Corrida, look for famous toreros from Spain or Mexico City. If you want less expensive tickets, specify sol seating, which means on the sunny side of the arena, but be sure to bring a hat. The sombra seats, which are in the shade, are more expensive. It is customary to bring a cushion, a bota bag of red wine, and a white rag. It is also a good idea to bring bottled water. Beer and other refreshments are sold at these events as well. 

The Plaza de Toros in Mérida is located at the corner of Avenida Reforma (Calle 72) and Calle 25. See our Merida map. Tickets are available at the arena, on the Zócalo or Plaza Grande, and at OXXO convenience stores.

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