Let’s begin though by rewinding to 1863, when a bullring was set up in the Caudéran area of Bordeaux by a Spaniard named Lopez Vincent: les Arènes Bordelaises. A second, La Benatte, was opened in 1899 in the Saint Seurin quarter. They operated until the early years of the 20th century, ahead of the more substantial Arènes du Bouscat being opened on May 8th 1921.
The Le Bouscat venue’s 25 stands could hold 10,500 spectators and, as well as being used for corrida meetings, the 41-metre-diameter ring was also used as a backdrop for concerts and wrestling bouts. From 1951 onwards, under the impetus of the renowned promoter Vicente Jorda, a prestigious bullfighting contest known as “L’Oreille d’Or” was held annually.
Pictured right is the legendary bullfighter Antoñete at the Arènes du Bouscat in July 1953, on his way to winning the first of three “Oreille d’Or” titles (he also won in 1955 and 1956). Meanwhile, rare Pathé footage of a 1950 bullfight in progress can be viewed here.
The last “Oreille d’Or” contest was held on June 18th 1961, shortly before the venue was closed down. It had fallen into a state of disrepair and the coup de grâce was reportedly the collapse of a staircase that resulted in the death of a spectator. There were several attempts to save the arena but it was eventually demolished in 1970, making way for a major residential complex that is aptly known as “Les Arènes”. The centrepiece of Les Arènes is a 1974 pink granite sculpture by Israeli artist Shelomo Selinger entitled “La Tauromachie” (see top picture), which harks back to the confrontations between man and beast that took place at that exact spot.
Bullfighting then faded into obscurity in the area until 1985, when meetings began to be held again in Captieux, 85 kilometres to the south of Bordeaux. Corridas are still organised there annually and frequently draw big-name matadors: in 2011, the star attraction was the world number one, El Juli.
The stands are now used in Fenouillet, to the north of Toulouse, although, at the time of writing, the Floirac arena was still visible on the GoogleMaps satellite picture of the area (right). The arena most definitely is no more though: apartments have now been built in its place and, as in Le Bouscat, the name of the building is a clear reference to the bullring history of its location: Résidence Plaza de Goya.
Meanwhile, in 1999, some 20 kilometres to the south of Bordeaux the small town of La Brède (the birthplace of the writer and thinker Montesquieu) began hosting well-attended bullfighting meetings as part of wider festivities known as la Fête de la Rosière in a temporary structure on an expanse of land known as Pré de l’Espérance.
For a time around 2004, as had already been the case in 1989, there was even talk of a permanent bullfighting venue being built in La Brède, whose mayor Michel Dufranc is a bullfighting enthusiast. But the project was not deemed financially viable by the prospective Spanish investors, who also backed out of a competing project in Floirac, no doubt to the delight of numerous local animal rights campaigners (such as the Collectif Girondin Contre les Arènes, or COGICA).
The La Brède festivities continue to take place every last weekend in June. The name of the event is in reference to the annual crowning (since 1824) of the “Rosière” that rewards the town’s “most virtuous young woman” (candidates are all aged 18). The bullfights are generally “novilladas”, combats between young toreros and young bulls, and the programme also features traditional “jeux de vaches landaises”, which are mayhem-filled contests that involve men (and sometimes women) running, jumping and employing improvised acrobatics around the ring to avoid getting hurt by visibly annoyed cows.
|Pré de l'Espérance in the foreground, with La Brède's Église St Jean d'Étampes in the distance.|
At the time of writing, there is talk of the municipally-owned land being used to build a privately-funded and privately-run multi-purpose venue that would incorporate its own dismountable 3,000-capacity bullfighting arena… but the project has not been welcomed with open arms by locals who have thus far been kept in the dark about the finer details of the venture. In the meantime, this is how La Brède goes about transforming the Pré de l’Espérance once a year:
- Find them:
- 75, Avenue du Président Schuman, Le Bouscat
- Rue Léo Lagrange, Floirac (bullring still visible on GoogleMaps)
- Pré de l'Espérance, La Brède
- Read the French-language memories of two writers recalling events at the Le Bouscat and Floirac bullrings.