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  • Writer's pictureSonia Cuesta Maniar, PhD

A Brief History of Bullfighting and La Monumental in Catalonia

What is La Monumental?

The Plaza de Toros Monumental de Barcelona, usually shortened to simply La Monumental, is a former bullfighting arena that now serves as a venue for music, sports and other events.

La Monumental aerial

Bullfighting in Catalonia

For centuries bullfighting has played a significant part in Spain's culture. In a traditional corrida, six bulls are killed by three matadores (literally 'killers'), accompanied by their banderilleros or entourage. The matadors wear distinctive costumes, called trajes de luces, consisting of silk jackets heavily embroidered in gold, skin-tight trousers, and a montera (a bicorne hat). Bullfighting remains an incredibly dangerous spectacle. Fatalities in the ring are commonplace, and almost always inevitable for the bulls. Countless matadores and banderilleros have been severely wounded or killed throughout the years. Injuries were once so commonplace, in fact, that expert doctors specialising in treating cornadas, or goring by horns, needed to be present before a bullfight could proceed.

In the 1930s, American writer and bullfighting aficionado Ernest Hemingway predicted that the corrida would face opposition. He claimed that ‘anything capable of arousing passion in its favour will surely raise as much passion against it’. Eventually, the popularity and ethics of bullfighting came under fire over the past few decades. In June 2010, Catalonia became the first region in mainland Spain officially to ban it. Although the appeal of the sport had already dwindled in the previous decades, with many rings struggling to fill even half their seats, there were still a few stadiums in operation in Catalonia at the time. The regional parliament’s ban divided public opinion. Many agreed the sport was inhumane and cruel, and that animal welfare should be paramount. By contrast, others saw the ban as a further attempt by the Catalan independence movement to distance themselves from mainland Spain.

Bullfight in La Monumental

La Monumental History

This magnificent structure is the Plaza de Toros Monumental (or simply La Monumental), the last public bullfighting ring to close its doors in Catalonia. Inaugurated in 1914, it was open for just under a century before the Parliament of Catalonia put an end to the sport. Yet far from falling into disuse since the ban, the ring has gained a new lease of life as a venue for music, sports and other events. The 20,000-seater ring, originally christened El Sport, was designed by architect Manuel Joaquim Raspall i Mayol, who was inspired by Neo-Moorish architecture. Notice the distinctive horseshoe-shaped archways and ornate Arabesque tiling.

In October 2016, the Spanish High Court overturned the Catalan parliament’s decision to ban the sport. But even though bullfights are now allowed to take place in La Monumental once more, none have been scheduled since the original closure. There’s been much debate about the possible future of the arena. In its heyday, La Monumental hosted several popular concerts, notably a 1965 appearance by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones' first-ever show in Spain in the following decade. Other notable acts who have played at the ring over the years include Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen and Tina Turner.

Today, La Monumental hosts an eclectic mix of events: street-food markets, wrestling, children's activities and mock-medieval battles. Though the function of the venue may have changed for good, there’s still life in the old ring yet.

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