This post is a part of the Excess Baggage series
Picture: Fernando Monte da Silva
A first look at Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas
While bullfighting has over time, been lauded as well as despised, it remains a part and parcel of Spain’s colourful history. One of the major attractions in the city of Madrid is its bullfighting arena. Built in 1929 in the area called ‘Las Ventas del Espíritu Santo’, which gave the bullring its name, it is also known as The Cathedral of the Winds because of its location along one of the windiest areas of Madrid. The Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas is situated in the Calle de Alcala, in the city’s Salamanca district.
The arena of Las Ventas, which measures a total area of 45,800 square metres, is considered Spain’s major bullring, and the third-largest bullring in the world, after the bullrings of Mexico and Valencia, Venezuela and has a total capacity of 23,798 spectators. The ring first opened in June of 1931 with a celebration for the matadors Juan Belmonte, Marcial Lalanda and Joaquin Rodriguez ‘Cagancho’ with the bulls of Carmen Federico. Built in a Neo-Moorish style, the bullring was designed by the architect Jose Espeliú, and built in brick on a metal frame with decorative ceramic tiles of the much-acclaimed Manuel Munoz Monasterio.
However, what draws visitors to this site is the fact that the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas is considered the most important bullring in the world, and as the management refers to it, ‘the Mecca of bullfighting’, the arena where all matadors want to succeed. It is also home to the most demanding bullfighting audience in the world, and few bullfighters reach the absolute triumph – the exit through the Puerta Grande de Madrid, with less than 100 bullfighters exiting from it since the arena first opened in 1931.
Las Ventas is a seasonal bullring in which bullfights begin at the end of March and end in October, normally on Sundays. The most important bullfighting festival of the world is the Feria de San Isidro, patron of the city of Madrid, which takes place in May with about 30 festivities.
Picture: Fernando Monte da Silva
The bullfighting ring at Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas, where oddly enough, someone has proposed to their soulmate, by writing their intentions in the sand
If you venture to Las Ventas on a day that doesn’t involve a bullfight, the impressive structure welcomes you with a tour that begins at La Puerta Grande de Las Ventas, the place where all matadors dream of leaving on the shoulders of fans. At this point you will discover the history of the square, its construction, the bullfighters who have come out from it on the aforementioned shoulders, and the statues that surround it. As you climb the first flight of stairs, you find yourself upon the terrace, where all the architectural details that make Las Ventas glorious, are revealed. From here on out, one can venture into the stands, where you witness a panoramic view of the arena that puts into perspective the complex developments that can occur during a bullfight. There is an ornately decorated Royal Box, exclusively reserved for when the Spanish royal family decides to attend a bullfight. Much ado surrounds the heroic death of the bull, and the arena’s Arrastre Gate is dedicated to his exit, from which he is taken out while the audience applauds and whistles in judgement of his bravery. Eventually, you make your way to the ring, where the main event comes to pass. There is an air of sobriety which surrounds the ring. It is almost as if the sand beneath one’s feet, stained with blood, speaks of all it has witnessed over time.
As you exit through the bull gates, you realise that this is where the bull understands that he is minutes away from facing his destiny, where his ability to fight to the death, paradoxically, is the only thing that can now save his life. There is a similar spot for the bullfighter, or matador, as well: the Puerta de Cuadrillas. This is the door from which the bullfighters enter the square, amidst their nerves and fear, while their admirers egg them on. It is customary that en route, they stop at the chapel on the premises, to pray for help and protection. This is considered the most intimate of matador moments.
Beyond the arena, just past the chapel, lies the Taurine Museum of Madrid. The structure is one that highlights bulls and bullfighters and displays a rich collection of art, from costumes of every bullfighter that has graced the sport to heads of the most glorious bulls, preserved by way of taxidermy. The Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas is a landmark that needs, nay, demands visiting, purely because of its significance to the city of Madrid, and all that it has witnessed over the passage of time, with regard to one of the country’s oldest traditions.
Las Ventas is set away from most of Madrid's other sights. As such, it is necessary to travel a bit to get there. The metro station of Ventas however, is right under the arena. A train till there will do perfectly.
Las Ventas is not for the faint of heart, as bullfighting can often be rather gruesome. One needs to bear this in mind when taking a trip there.
A standard tour of the arena is priced at €15-approximately ₹1,125 (at the time of publishing this story).
My love for travel is second only to my love of food. Excess Baggage is a series of posts that delves into my experiences with the places that I’ve been to, why they are special to me and my sharing of my own insight that may lead you to take the path I have, which is quite often the path less travelled.