Bull fighting is a pursuit soaked in blood and steeped in history.
The roots of a sport now synonymous with Spain has its early roots in prehistoric Mesopotamia and its Epic of Gilgamesh, in which the mighty Bull of Heaven is felled by the heroic king following hours of battle.
After stints of popularity in Rome and Greece, it found its true home in medieval Spain however, where a single fighter on horseback would face a full grown bull armed only with a lance.
During the reign of Emperor Charles V in the 1500s the pursuit arguably reached its peak as a majestic art form, with revered fighter Pedro Ponce de Leon slaughtering the bull while riding a horse blindfolded.
From this technical peak came bullfighting as a daring pursuit, most famously performed by Juan Belmonte, a Seville born matador would stand inches from the bull, maintaining eye contact with the hulking animal as he skipped beyond the reach of his horns.
Such a daring, dangerous approach saw Belmonte gored on multiple occasions and venerated as the greatest matador of all time.
The mythology of his death – in which, having been warned away from sexual acts and debauchery by his doctor, he took a handful of cigars, two bottles of wine and his horse before riding to a quiet spot to shoot himself – characterises the rugged prestige of matadors during bullfighting's modern heydey.
Fast forward 70 years to present day however, and things are very different.
What was once a perilous pursuit in which man and bull met eye-to-eye in a situation of mutual peril has become a one sided affair closer to butchery than battle.
Long before hoards of blood thirsty punters crowd themselves into amphitheatre like arenas the bulls are being weakened and softened up for the fight, opponents of bull fighting claim.
One particularly gruesome practice is horn shaving, in which the animal's primary means of defense are shorted by several inches with a hacksaw.
The marrow at the centre of the horn is stuffed inside the remaining outer casing, which is then filed into a point.
Although it is hard to know how the bull experiences such a procedure, it is perhaps similar to a human having their teeth filed down by a back-alley dentist wielding a hacksaw and with no access to anesthetic.
Although this practice is banned, it is alleged that the law is so regularly flouted that horn shaving, like many other techniques to debilitate the bull, has well known set prices.
Other methods activists claim a fearful matador is able to pick from include smearing the bulls eyes with Vaseline to blur his vision; stuffing his nose with newspaper so he can't breath properly; starving him for several days before the fight; force feeding him Epsom salts to induce diarrhea; shoving a needle through his testicles; and making him drink gallons of water so he is too bloated to fight.
It is also claimed that just before the sorry animal is pushed into the baying stadium he be given tranquilizers to slow him down or amphetamines to speed him up – depending on how well the pre-match prep has worked.
The bull invariably enters the ring in a state of pure disorientation, Advocacy for Animals reports.
On the day of the fight he is kept in total, isolated darkness before being pushed towards the bright light and cacophony of the stadium.
As he stampedes through the entrance an assistant sticks a silk rosette onto his shoulder – the colours representing the farm where he was raised.
In most fights the bull's competition comes in the form of three matadors, who will face up against six bulls.
Over the course of 15 to 20 minutes the animal is goaded into charging through an assistant's careful cape work, tiring the bull and allowing the matador to observe his behaviour.
When the bull charges the assistant finds refuge behind a wooden sheild.
Next, in what aficionados consider the second of three acts, two horse riding picadors trot into the ring and sever the bull's neck muscles using an eight inch blade.
The horse is often an unintended victim of the fight, with many having lost their lives in the melee despite the foam padding they are made to wear.
Before the matador – conveniently absent from the front line until this point – is brought in to finish things off, three banderilleros stab the bull with six two and a half foot spears.
A barbed piece of iron ensures the instrument remains in the bull's body as he moves, opening the wound further and causing additional bleeding.
It is at this point that the 'hero' of this curious morality play, the matador, enters the ring.
Over the course of a ten minute performance he allows the bull to charge past him several times, milking the cheers by twisting and turning as close to the bull as possible.
After he spends a few final minutes taunting the bull the matador drives his sword into the animal's back in an attempt to puncture his aorta and invoke instant death.
Often this doesn't work, meaning an additional few stabs are required.
Just to really rub salt into the wounds, a final blow to the bull's spinal cord with a dagger paralyses the animal – causing it to appear but not necessarily be lifeless for when the assistant chops off his ears.
These are then presented to the matador as a well done present, like a domestic cat dragging in a mauled bird as a gift to its owners.
A team of horses then drag the bull out of the ring by his hind legs.
Although the pursuit was banned in Catalonia before being overturned, opponents remain in the minority in Spain, where around 30% of the population actively follow it.
While a favoured argument of its proponents is that it is an employer of 57,000 people and brings in €1.6bn a year, bull fighting is subsidised by public money.
Although few try to argue the bull does not suffer, bullfighting is often defended as a key part of Spanish culture.
At a rally in 2016 famous fighter Jose Antonio Morante Camacho led a protest against local authorities partially banning the pursuit in Valencia.
"The bullfighting world is aware of the problem and maltreatment we are suffering at the hands of a part of the political class," he said, thelocal.es reported.
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