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Bullfighting Tradition in Portugal
By Axel Bugge
May 18, 2006

LISBON (Reuters) - Lisbonites saw their first bullfight in six years on Thursday as Iberia's only bull ring with a shopping center and cinema opened its gates. Outside, protesting animal rights campaigners said it was a sad day.


Bullfighter Pedrito de Portugal challenges the bull during the reopening ceremony of the Campo Pequeno bullring arena in Lisbon May 16, 2006. (Jose Manuel Ribeiro/Reuters)

When the first bull charged into the ring, aficionados cheered the bullfighters and legendary "forcados" -- the groups of men who face the bull head-on in Portugal's version of the sport.

"This is so beautiful, I never expected to live to see this day," said 84-year-old Guillerme Pereira who first fought bulls on the same site 60 years ago. "This is a great show."

The opening of the Campo Pequeno ring comes after weeks of excitement by enthusiasts at the prospect of getting back Lisbon's bull ring that had been neglected and left in near ruins for years before a decision to restore it in 2001.

"We missed the Campo Pequeno ring," said Pedro Cabral, 25, who has been a bullfighter for a decade, as he waited on the side to jump into the ring. "The pressure is greater here, I am a bit nervous."

Bullfighting has been going strong in Portugal's rural regions despite Lisbon's bull ring being out of action for the last seven years.

Well-to-do Lisbonites were out in force for Thursday's show, happy to pay between 35 euros ($45) and 75 euros to get a seat to watch the show, which is different to neighboring Spain's tradition in that the bull is not killed in the ring, but afterwards. All 7,000 seats were taken.

But the enthusiasts were met at the entrance by about 1,000 animal rights campaigners, banging drums and waving banners reading "No to Torture."

"This is a sad day because after six years of no bullfights we are taking a step back," said Carla Carvalho, an animal rights activist. "Spain and Portugal still practice this brutality, the elites like this kind of show."

NOT A NORMAL BULL RING

Campo Pequeno in its revamped version is no normal bull ring.

The unique "neo-Arab" structure -- the only one of its kind in Portugal -- harks back to the Iberian palaces and forts of the Moors with their arches and elaborate decorations. Its four turrets and curving walls are made of distinctive red bricks.

Apart from having a shopping center and eight-screen cinema underneath it, the ring can be completely covered in three minutes by moving glass panes on the roof, said a spokeswoman for the project.

That should ensure that the ring can stage other shows than bullfights during rainy winter months, which was part of the plan to make the refurbishment financially viable.

Investors hope the ring will stage everything from rock concerts to operas. When the shows finish, spectators can go downstairs to the bars, restaurants and hamburger joints.

Two Portuguese investment groups spent 12.5 million euros on the bull ring alone and the whole project cost 50 million euros.

"Now they are trying to hide bullfighting behind a shopping center," said Carvalho.

But the ring that still smelled of fresh paint appeared to get the thumbs up from the crowds, who threw roses at the parading bullfighters as trumpets blared.

Using modern materials, the ring is as true a copy of the original as possible, but it has windows in the arches that run around its exterior.

The original ring was inaugurated in 1882. But humidity and lack of maintenance had left it in such a poor state that Lisbon city inspectors ordered that it be closed in 1999 because of risks that it would come crumbling down.

When the sixth bull charged into the ring, its nostrils snorting and stamping its hoofs, Cabral was in no doubt that bullfighting was as strong as ever in Portugal.

"This tradition is strong, even more so now with Campo Pequeno," he said. "Let them protest outside, they can't even tell the difference between a bull and an ox."
 

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