May 18, 2006

Bulls charge again at Portugal’s legendary ring

By Axel Bugge

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.

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

"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."


Campo Pequeno in its revamped version is no normal bull

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

"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."