The event starts with a parade around the ring of everyone involved in the bullfight (the cuadrilla) as the peñas begin to play. The toreros remain in the arena as the bull is released. The four toreros work together, teasing and tiring the bull as it charges their fluttering magenta and canary yellow capes, catching the attention of the agitated bull. Usually only one of the toreros holds the title of matador, being the most experienced bullfighter of the group.
Two picadores arrive at the scene, dressed in attire just as intricate as the toreros on blindfolded and armored horses. They hold a spear with a short blade that is plunged into the bull's neck when it notices the horse and attempts to gore it. This is the first stage of the fight; Tercio de Varas. It is remarkable watching the horses as they are literally lifted into the air by the bull and remain impressively calm. The stab weakens the bull's charging force and also drives it into a wounded frenzy.
The picadors exit as the toreros continue to tire the animal, taking turns running at it with banderillas, decorated barbs, that they plunge into its back. This is part 2, Tercio de Banderillas. The bull is a sorry state at this point, with blood sometimes beginning to stream down its back. Its tongue lolls out, breathing frantically.
The matador exchanges his cape for a bright red one, the muleta, and is handed a sword. With controlled poise and ballerina-like grace, he performs the final act, Tercio de Muerte, with the exhausted beast. It is a dance of death both beautiful and saddening, a clash of visual splendor and brutality.
When the matador senses that the time is right, he drives the sword into its back, usually dropping the bull to its knees. He is given a shorter blade which he stabs into the neck, delivering instant death by severing its spine.
If the matador is truly skilled, the first sword plunge will successfully kill the animal. The crowd roars with approval if this is the case and the matador will triumphantly throw his hand up, showing his appreciation of the pleased crowd. The brass bands begin to play music again and onlookers cheer voraciously as three decorated horses are led out. The carcass is attached to the horses and they run out of the arena.
To watch this tremendous animal come bounding into the ring at the full height of its power to 20 minutes later being dragged away bloody and lifeless is quite something. To watch this six times in a row was a little overwhelming, I'll admit it. I knew I'd be a little uncomfortable watching a blood sport but when you're in Rome, do as the Romans do. I came, I saw, I documented. If I was going to experience San Fermin as a whole, the bull fight was just as important as any other element. I realize how significant bull fighting is to Spanish culture, but it's a shame that the animals have to endure such torment.