Bull Fighting Ring, Mexico, c. 1920s

Historical Context
Bullfighting was introduced to Mexico about five hundred years ago shortly after the arrival of Cortes and the Spaniards.  It grew in popularity in Mexico until today Mexico City’s Plaza Mexico bullring is said to be the largest in world.  

Bullfights in Mexico are held mostly in winter.  A bullfight is both cermony and sport.  In a typical bullfight, three bullfighters fight two bulls apiece.  In the first stage of a bullfight, the matador and bandilleros observe and test the bull with a capote, or large cape.  Next, two picadors on horseback enter the ring.  Their job is to stab the bull in the neck with a spear to weaken it.  Then three banderilleros on foot thrust small stakes into the back of the bull's neck.  Finally, when the bull is sufficiently weakened, the matador takes a muleta, or small, red cape, and performs the bullfighting "dance."  When the bull is tiring, the matador tries to execute the "estocada" by thrusting a sword through the bull's neck between the ribs and into its lungs and heart, killing it.
Essential Question
How does a culture reflect a society's environment?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and determine the cultural significance of the activity depicted.
[click to enlarge]
Mexico. Bull Ring with Crowds of People, New York State Archives, NYSA_A3045-78_3084
Document Description
Picadores, matadores, and other participants entering a bull ring crowded with spectators in Mexico.
  1. Based on the part of the bullring you can see in the photograph, what shape is the bullring?
Historical Challenge
Research the history of bullfighting. How did bullfighting begin? In what countries is it popular? How has the sport changed over time? Create a play showing how bullfighting was performed in different stages of the sport's history.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: How many people does the Plaza Mexico bullring hold? If the bullring were half full, how many people would be present? How many people does the largest football stadium in the United States hold? If all the people who could fit into the Plaza Mexico were to move into the largest American football stadium, how full would the stadium be?
Science: Research the bulls used for bullfights. Which breeds are used? What characteristics are desirable for a fighting bull? How are these characteristics developed? How is a bull cared for to prepare it for bullfighting? Draw a diagram of an ideal bull for bullfighting and label the characteristics that would make it a good fighting bull.
English Language Arts: Write a letter to your legislator arguing why bullfighting should or should not be legal in your state.
  1. Goodwin, William. Mexico (Modern Nations of the World). San Diego: Lucent, 1999.