It's believed that during the Spanish War of the Reconquest, the knights, Moors and Christians, weary of killing one another, would instead go after the surrounding wildlife (ain't human nature great?). But deer and other equally docile animals weren't much of a challenge for the valiant knights. However, the same couldn't be said about the Iberian bull, a huge, powerful beast that, when provoked, would rather fight than flee. Some theorize that noblemen captured several of these beasts and brought them to Spanish villages, where the thrill of the hunt was made into a spectator sport; thus, bullfighting was created.
Another theory posits that bullfighting started with the Minoans of Bronze Age Crete, who practiced bull leaping as part of religious rituals. Later, Greeks and Romans also had rites that involved the slaughter of bulls, as did the Moors, who fought bulls from their horses and killed them with javelins.
Modern bullfighting dates from the 1700s, when the first permanent bullring was built in Spain -- a bowl-shaped stadium called a "plaza de toros." Today, Spain alone has more than 400 bullrings, some of which can seat more than 20,000 spectators.
Traditionally, the corrida begins when the bull enters the arena from an entrance called the "toril." Three of the matador's assistants, called "banderilleros," take turns getting the bull to charge by waving a red and yellow cloth called a "capote." (Bulls are actually color-blind; they react to the movement). The matador studies the bull, noting whether it charges straight or favors one horn, and other such bullish subtleties. The matador then enters the ring and makes five or six passes with the capote, guiding the bull close to his body. After the passes, two "picadors" enter on horseback. Each picador carries a lance called a "vara," which he stabs into the bull's neck to weaken the muscles. The banderilleros then re-enter the ring, and take turns placing short barbed sticks behind the bull's neck, causing the bull to make livelier charges.
The matador again enters the ring, now carrying a sword and a red cloth draped over a stick called a "muleta." For the finale, now that the bull is fatigued and weak from loss of blood, the matador plunges the sword between the animal's shoulder blades and into its heart, killing it. (The Portuguese practice a style of fighting from horseback in which the bull is not killed in the ring). If the matador has performed well, the presidente may award hi