There are so many ancient references to tauromachy, the ritual killing of a bull, that one could say people have been bull fighting forever. When we say "bull fighting," however, we don't mean the Mithraic Mysteries or the Epic of Gilgamesh; we mean the blood sport associated with Spain and some places in the Americas.
fighting apparently started in eighth-century Spain as a
spectacle in which a man on horseback would confront the
animal. (At least plausibly, the affair was a ritualized
descendant of the above-mentioned ancient practice of bull
sacrifice.) It survived in that form for some centuries
and was very popular among the noble classes in Spain
until 1567, when Pope Pius V issued a Papal bull (make up
your own joke!) against man-vs.-beast sports. The ban was
revoked by the next Pope and bull-fighting later developed
into the form we know —man on foot against the beast; the
first bull fight of that nature was in Spain in the early
1720s. It is still very popular in that nation but is
forbidden in many other European countries.
occurred to me that there had ever been a bull fight in
Naples. Yes, Naples was ruled by the
Spanish from 1500 to 1700, so it is possible that
there were versions of the mounted knight-vs.-bull
spectacle in Spanish Naples, though I have not read that
there were. In any event, bull fighting certainly was not
practiced under the Bourbon
dynasty that came to Naples in the 1730s.
Thus, I was surprised to find in the New York Times for August 3, 1890, an outraged article entitled "Bull fighting in Naples" that started...
The article is largely a long citation from the London Times, which further reported...
..the first "tauromachia," or bull fight, that has taken place in Naples for two centuries came off on Sunday, July 13. It was to be repeated on the following Thursday and so on for every Sunday and Thursday for two months...
...It is calculated that 10,000 persons went down on Sunday to the temporary amphitheatre, which is situated at the end of the people's villa, close to the church of the Carmine...
article notes that Neapolitans had to wait out a
quarantine due to a cholera outbreak in Spain, but that
finally "...twelve Andalusian bulls, together with a
large company of performers in the coming tragedy, soon
arrived, and were received with a joyous welcome." The
rest of the article is a long and anguished tirade against
bull fighting, the kindest phrase of which is that it is "...a
carnival of stupid cruelty."
episode—from the description in the paper—took place in
the historic Piazza Mercato,
a space large enough to accommodate such an event; indeed,
it was also the site where Buffalo
Bill had presented his Wild West show in January of
that same year.
Neapolitan bull fights continued for at least a few years
but moved to a different location. The insert in the
graphic (above) is a poster advertisement for such an
event. Note the Spanish Plaza
de Toros but, below that in Italian, Corrida di tori (bull
fight, though corrida
is borrowed from Spanish) and Caccia di buffali (buffalo hunt!—that
has to be in imitation of the earlier Buffalo Bill show).
An article from Il
Mattino, the Neapolitan daily, of September 11,
1893, reports on the spectacle in the new hippodrome near
the upper station of the Montesanto cable-car, an area
that was then still largely countryside. In an age before
mass spectator sports such as soccer, the new arena served
for whatever you might get people to show up and pay for:
a race-track for horses and bicycles—and, of course, bull
fights. The tone of the article has none of the
disapproval of the foreign press, cited above. It is
light-hearted in the extreme, concluding that the day was
one of "hilarity for all...except for the animals."