Monumental bullring home
Barcelona’s Monumental bullring played host to the Beatles, on July 3rd, 1965, for their second, and last concert in Spain. The choice of venue, in those pre-Palau Sant Jordi days, meant that the Fab Four found themselves playing in an arena normally filled with people watching a man ritually killing a bull at a corrida (bullfight).
These days are quite a comedown from those of the Beatles. In recent years, Monumental has, as Barcelona’s last functioning coso (bullring), become an anachronism. During the April-September bullfighting season it has largely been a destination for curious tourists and die-hard local fans. Out of season, it’s used by travelling circuses to put up their big top. A new lease on life could, however, soon be breathed into this local landmark: the announcement last December that 2007 might see the final bullfighting season in Monumental, due to economic losses, was quickly followed by a suggestion from the Ajuntament that the city’s flea market, the Encants Vells (to be made homeless by remodelling of the Glòries area) could move in there.
The Modernista Monumental ring was designed by Manuel Raspall and opened in 1914; the exterior ‘crown’ by Andreu Mas was added in 1916. It seats over 19,500 spectators, and has a façade of red brick and blue and white tiles, with four Dalí-esque egg shapes dominating the entrance. Just above the ticket office, marked out in blue tiles, are the words Sol and Sombra, indicating to which side spectators should go depending on whether they want to sit in the sun or spend the extra cash for a spot in the shade.
Almost since its beginning, the destiny of the Monumental ring has been linked to the Balañá family. Entrepreneur Pedro Balañá Espinós was first manager and later owner of the bullring, along with Les Arenes in Plaça Espanya, and others around Spain. Today, Grup Balañá is a large entertainment organisation, owning several theatres and multiplex cinemas in Barcelona. The company loses €24,000 from each Monumental bullfight, according to news reports in December 2006, and observers have predicted that the 2007 season will be the last. “We are not making any comments on this to anyone at the moment,” a Balañá spokesman told Metropolitan, when asked for details. But, he admitted, eventually a statement would have to be made. It could well be the announcement that sees the unofficial end of corrides in Barcelona.
News that the city might soon be bullfight-free is welcome to the various organisations advocating animal rights, such as the Asociación Defensa Derechos Animal (ADDA), Altarriba, and the Anti-Bullfighting Party against Animal Maltreatment (PACMA), amongst others, which have long fought for a ban on bullfights. However, there is still work to be done. “We want a parliamentary and legislative solution [to this issue],” said Francina Ballester of ADDA. “We will continue campaigning.”
British-born Deborah Parris is a member of PACMA, and stood for the party in the last Generalitat elections. She agreed with Ballester. “We won't be satisfied until bullfighting is abolished. In any case, there’s still the bullring at Tarragona.”
Bullfighting has been on the wane in Barcelona for some time. Declaring itself an anti-bullfighting city in 2004 was a gesture by the Ajuntament with popular support, but without legal backing. The Generalitat, without imposing an outright ban on the activity (as has happened in the Canary Islands), has taken steps to lessen its appeal. For many years, children under 14 have not been allowed to watch corrides and the construction of new bullrings was banned. However, bullfighting has continued. And, the organisation Plataforma de la Defensa de la Fiesta was set up in response to the declaration of Barcelona’s anti-bullfighting status, and has recently vowed to continue despite the serious blow that would be dealt to its cause if bullfighting ended at Monumental.
At the same time, Plataforma criticised what it sees as the use of bullfighting by Catalan nationalists in a campaign against Spain. Deborah Parris is indignant at such suggestions. “The anti-Catalan lobby repeatedly says that the abolition movement is anti-Spanish, but I can honestly say that in all our activism we have never had any support of this sort.”
Whatever its motives, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) last summer won support in Parliament to debate an amendment of the Animal Protection Law to erase the exception for bullfighting written into the article forbidding the public killing of animals. The debate is yet to take place but, if successful, the change would be a large nail in bullfighting’s coffin in Catalunya.
Whether politics or economics brings bullfighting to an end at Monumental, the building’s fate will have to be determined—at the very least the protected façade needs to be maintained. Les Arenes in Plaça Espanya closed in 1977, then stood empty and in an increasing state of ruin for over 20 years, until its conversion project began. However, Barcelona’s council may already have found a use for Monumental. The news that the coso might be holding its final bullfights was followed by declarations from second deputy mayor, Jordi Portabella of ERC, that the site would be an ideal location for the Bellcaire flea market. More commonly known as Els Encants Vells, it is currently in Plaça de les Glòries, but needs to find a new home because of major renovation works to be done there. The Glòries project is forecast to take up to 10 years, and will see the concrete ring now standing in the plaça replaced by a 12-hectare park, Design Museum and 1,200 new homes, amongst other things. However, there is no space put aside for the market.
The transfer of Encants to Monumental is just one of the “different options” being considered, but “it’s definitely a possibility”, according to an Ajuntament spokesman. On the one hand there is no immediate deadline for the move and, on the other, Barcelona’s mayor, Jordi Hereu, has denied any knowledge of the idea and stated that it is not the council’s role to get involved with the decisions of private enterprises. So any negotiations for the purchase or leasing of Monumental by the Ajuntament look set to be very long-term.
And, of course, nothing is likely to be decided without approval from those who work at Encants Vells. Diego Escámez is president of the market-sellers’ association, and somewhat bemused by Portabella’s plan. He first heard about the idea from the press. “We haven’t received any formal proposal from the Institut de Mercats Municipals de Barcelona.”
Without that, Escámez can’t formally go to the stallholders and get permission to work on their behalf regarding the deal. Encants Vells has been in its current position since 1928 when it moved from Sant Antoni, to what was supposed to be a temporary location. However, although there has been a lot of talk in the past 12 years about finding it a permanent home, according to Escámez, it was only when the renovation of Glòries was approved by the council that it became a more serious issue. The market’s current space is 15,000 square metres, and Monumental would provide 10,000 square metres, which Escámez reckons would be the minimum necessary.
So, the future of Monumental is anything but decided. And while it may never return to hosting hit boy bands, it could still have a role to play in Barcelona.