The People of Gibraltar
1943 - Journey to Gibraltar - Robert Henry - The Bullfight
The fair stretched for about a quarter of a mile in front of the bullring, and there were thousands of electric globes strung from one line of booths to the other, under which one walked, and which would make a wonderful sight in the evening. 

La Línea Fair with nearby bullring in the background
The fair at La Linea is held at the same time every year. Twelve months ago a number of Italian aeroplanes, raiding Gibraltar, appeared right above the fair ground at two o’clock in the morning. The roundabouts were crowded at this hour, and people were merrily riding round and round on ostriches and pigs and horses and camels to the sound of the strident music. The fair attendants, hearing the sirens, ran for cover, forgetting to turn off the machinery of the roundabouts, so that the merry-makers were left dizzily turning round and round for nearly an hour. 
The bullring was a great circular edifice, painted ochre and brick-red. Captain Gomez led us to two wide gates which were ajar, and where we were welcomed by a couple of attendants who knew him. We thus entered into a patio with a roof of vines, from which large bunches of ripening grapes hung from the thick leaves, and it was beautifully cool. In a corner was a pump beside the trunk of the vine, and a boy was making ice-cold water. 

The bullring of La Línea
We were led through a narrow aperture to a corral, where three tame bulls with bells round their necks looked up at our approach, and being told that they would do us no harm we crossed over to peep through a crack in the heavy door at five wild bulls in a second corral. These bulls were for the fight of the following day. We retraced our steps to the Patio Matadero, which we had entered at first, and while Captain Gomez was talking to one of the ranchers from Los Barrios, where the wild bulls were bred lnocencia and I remained under the cool vines. Suddenly the great double doors were thrown open, and somebody shouted ‘The bulls!’  
I was just wondering what all this was about when lnocencia grabbed me by the arm and pushed me, with herself following on my heels, behind one of the heavy wooden boards against the wall, which the Spaniards call burladeros, from the Spanish verb burlar, ‘to fool,’ because, by hiding behind these barriers, one ‘fools’ the bulls, who are thus unable to attack one.

Prewar photo of the inside of the Plaza   (Acknowledgements and thanks to Martin Vallejo Platero)
A moment later seven bulls careered into the patio, and dust flew in all directions. ‘You can peep through the cracks,’ said lnocencia, holding my arm. ‘The wild bull is the fellow in the middle with the huge horns and the others are tame bulls to encircle him and drive him safely through.’   
There was a tremendous scramble, and a lot of shouting and cursing, and a few moments later the heavy doors were closed again, and there was only a distant rumbling sound. We emerged rather dusty from our burladero, and found Captain Gomez, whose face was radiant.  
‘Now,’ said he, ‘you two are going to see something really interesting. I am going to take you up to the apartadero, so that you may see this bull being put into his pen, where he will stay in the dark until the fight begins this evening.’  
We climbed a flight of stairs, and found ourselves in what looked like the long attic of a barn. There were old oak rafters supporting the roof, and lots of pulleys and ropes, and saddles hung from the walls, but at various intervals there were square holes in the floor, each aperture being covered over with a trestle.  
‘Take care of your heads,’ cried out Captain Gomez, ‘and don’t catch your heels in the trestles. There are six apertures, and each of them is directly above a pen.’ ‘Only five bulls are in their pens,’ explained the rancher from Los Barrios. ‘We are about to put the sixth (the one you have just seen arrive) in his. Follow me.’
He led us into the centre of the ‘attic,’ where there was a much larger aperture, surrounded by a low wall. Below, as soon as our eyes were accustomed to the semi-obscurity, we could see an enormous beast with the most terrifying horns I have ever beheld. The impression was largely due to the fact that we were only above the horns; so near, indeed, that by bending down we could have touched them if we had been less frightened.  
The bull was extremely angry, and from time to time bent his head and attacked a wall of the passage with his horns with such ferocity that we had the impression that the whole edifice was about to fall about us like a pack of cards. Those horns fascinated me, and Inocencia must have felt the same, because she whispered to me: ‘Now you know what the matador is up against. Fancy staring into those horns. They seem much less dangerous from a safe seat high up in the bullring.’ 
An attendant took a long pole, called a garrocha, and started to prod the animal, but although the attendant prodded very hard, and sweat poured from his brow, the mighty beast only whisked his tail, as if he had been annoyed by a fly. What the bull was really angry about was finding himself confined in the passage, and what the attendant was trying to do was to persuade the animal to walk into his pen, where the door could be shut after him, and where he would be imprisoned until he was due to be killed in the ring. 
On the whole the bull kept his temper better than the attendant, who soon began to curse and swear and smite the bull sideways with the pole, but it took at least ten minutes to coax him into the right pen. Then the trap was lowered by the pulley, and the bull was in his cell. We were now invited to withdraw the trestle above the pen, and look down upon the bull in prison, but there was no protection above the aperture, and Inocencia and I were wary. 
The bull was now very near to us, and if he felt that was inclined he could have reared his mighty horns upwards and probably caught us fair and square. But Captain Gomez was insistent that use should inspect each of the bulls in turn, though it was so dark down below that we only saw, in rapid succession, six gigantic pairs of hors above six extremely angry bulls. From here we clambered down the stairs, and were conducted to the chapel, where within a couple of hours three matadors in glorious apparel would be kneeling, asking that they might return safely from the ring. They did return, but one of the picadors made his last appearance. 

Outside the Plaza after the bullfight    (With acknowledgements and thanks to Enrique Alejandro Carreño)


Click on the links below for more quotes and comments: