Toro's Revenge: The Portuguese Bullfight

By Rick Steves

If you always felt sorry for the bull, this is Toro's Revenge — in a Portuguese bullfight, the matador is brutalized along with the bull.

In Act I, the horseman (cavaleiro) skillfully plants four beribboned barbs in the bull's back while trying to avoid the leather-padded horns. The horses are the short, stocky Lusitano breed, with excellent balance. In Act II, a colorfully clad eight-man suicide squad (called forçados) enters the ring and lines up single file facing the bull. With testosterone sloshing everywhere, the leader taunts the bull — slapping his knees and yelling, touro! — then braces himself for a collision that can be heard all the way up in the cheap seats. As he hangs onto the bull's head, his buddies pile on, trying to wrestle the bull to a standstill. Finally, one guy hangs on to o touro's tail and "water-skis" behind him. (In Act III, the ambulância arrives.)

Unlike the Spanish corrida de toros, the bull is not killed in front of the crowd at the Portuguese tourada...but it is killed later. (Some brave bulls with only superficial wounds are spared to fight another day.) Spanish aficionados insist that Portuguese fights are actually more cruel, since they humiliate the bull, rather than fight him as a fellow warrior.

Lisbon's bull ring is a spectacular, Moorish-domed brick structure that bears a resemblance to Madrid's bullring. After five years of remodeling, it reopened with a shopping mall underneath and a variety of restaurants inside, oddly including an Argentine steak restaurant. Maybe the beef served was in the ring earlier?

Important note: Half the fights are simply Spanish-type corridas without the killing. For the real slam-bam Portuguese-style fight, confirm that there will be grupo de forçados (literally, "bull grabbers").

Is bullfighting — Portugese or Spanish — culture or cruelty?