- Until soccer (futebol) assumed that role in the 20th century, bull-fighting was perhaps Portugal's most popular national sport. Portugal's variation of this blood sport, which is also pursued in Spain and a number of Latin American countries (as well as occasionally the United States), differs from that found in neighboring Spain. The contemporary Portuguese bullfight emphasizes pageantry, spectacle, horsemanship, and bull-jumping during a typical "program" of six bulls.The Portuguese participants wear 18th-century costumes, including plumed three-cornered hats, silk breeches, and buckled shoes and boots, and the bulls are not killed in the arena. In the early stages of each "fight," the bull is taunted and harassed by participants on foot or on horses. In the final stage of each bull's appearance, the bull is challenged to charge by a group of seven men called forcados, who proceed to incite the bull to charge the first man in front of the lined-up row of six other men. The object is to jump on the bull's head, hold the horns, and stop the bull's forward progress. Even though the bull's horns are cut and padded and horses wear padding, injuries to persons and horses do occur. In Portuguese tradition, it is said that the bull-jumping activity goes back to the ancient Phoenician or even Minoan customs of bull-jumping as a popular sport.In recent years, bullfight audiences have decreased in number while soccer has increasingly drawn greater crowds. During the 18th century, when killing the bull was part of the Portuguese bullfight, during one series of incidents a number of aristocratic bullfighters died in the arena. In 1928, the government of the day banned killing the bull and made such an act against the law. Matadores who killed the bull in the fight then were fined. In 2007, the matador Pedro de Portugal was fined 137,000 euros for killing a bull in the ring as an act of protest against the ban.The traditional bullfight season in Portugal runs from May into October each year. It was customary during the Estado Novo that after the bullfight the bulls, although not killed in the bullring, were slaughtered soon afterward and the meat donated to feed the poor. The supply of horses and bulls for this blood sport remains a business of some consequence in the Ribatejo district, north of the Tagus River, the "cowboy" and cattle section of central Portugal.
Historical dictionary of Portugal 3rd ed.. by Douglas L. Wheeler . 2014.
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