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Madrid's bullfighting 'ritual' acclaimed and contested

AFP  |  Madrid 

When the collapses and dies in front of the matador, silence descends on Madrid's ring, a "ritual" that its French vigorously defends in an increasingly conflictive climate.

Around 500,000 enthusiasts are expected to descend on during the month-long Feria de San Isidro, the Spanish capital's biggest festival.

But now more than ever, activists and politicians are getting involved as regional and loom on Sunday.

Madrid's outgoing has promised "corridas" (bullfights) "without blood or death".

But the conservatives and far-right defend a "tradition" associated with Spanish identity. To make their point, they enlisted three "toreros" (bullfighters) as candidates for April's

"I don't know anyone who loves the fighting more than the torero," says Casas, a 71-year-old former matador, as he strolls through Las Ventas, built in 1929.

It "is never an enemy for the torero but a glorified partner." In a corral next to the ring, visitors measure up these "fighting bulls" that have been reared solely for combat and sometimes weigh more than 600 kilos (1,300 pounds).

"If I had to be an animal, I wouldn't want to be a kitten or a doggie but a fighting bull," says Casas.

"I'd die, yes, but... I would make my destiny glorious."

Every day, representatives of the toreros pick at random the that will face off with each that evening in a solemn ceremony that involves picking papers out of a hat.

"That's the way it's been done since the 19th century," says Casas. In his office, paintings and photos pay homage to toreros killed by bulls: Joselito in 1920, Manolete in 1947...

Before a fight, rare are the matadors -- those toreros tasked with killing the bull -- who don't pass by the chapel in Las Ventas to pray.

Nearby, two operating rooms are on hand for injured toreros.

As for the bull, it will die unless it receives an extremely rare pardon -- "because you have to follow things through otherwise it becomes a performance and not a ritual," says Casas.

Bullfights that involve killing the bull in the ring are legal in Spain, part of France, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and some of

In Portugal, it's illegal but the bull is slaughtered afterwards.

On this spring day, the Las Ventas ring is teeming with close to 24,000 people.

"Long live Spain" shouts the crowd as former I joins onlookers.

First off, the bull is weakened by toreros who drive pikes and "banderillas" -- coloured darts -- into it, drawing blood.

Then a flourish of trumpets announces the entrance of the who has 10 minutes to finish the bull off.

"Ole!" "Good!" The is applauded when he manages to attract the bull into circles around him, standing close to its horns.

Suddenly thousands of white handkerchiefs rise in the audience: "a bull was very valiant, it was killed at once, the public is asking for an ear" as a reward for the torero, explains Antonio Mercader, a 54-year-old and enthusiast.

Onlookers whistle with disapproval at another matador as "the bull suffers too much," adds his wife, Paqui Fernandez, pulling a face. "He killed it badly."

Protesting for the "abolition of bullfighting," activists estimate that some 200 bulls will be killed during the Feria of San Isidro, and thousands in the whole of this year.

Calling corridas a "show of cruelty," published an opinion piece earlier this month asking to renounce the "art of killing."

However, bullfighting, part of Spain's cultural heritage list, appears untouchable.

Its ban in Catalonia in 2010 was overturned by the In practice, however, corridas no longer take place in the northeastern region, nor in the Balearic and Canary Islands.

In 2008, 810 bullfights took place across Ten years later, there were only 369, according to the culture ministry.

"Don't leave high and dry," pleads this year's poster for San Isidro.

It is a poster that appealed to Eladio Galan, a 25-year-old who wonders whether bullfighting will still exist in 30 years.

"I have friends who are indifferent, others who tell me: 'you're heartless'.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, May 25 2019. 10:15 IST