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East of central Madrid, the Plaza de Toros Monumental de Las Ventas (Las Ventas) is the most important and prestigious bullring in the world, and a visit here is a good way to gain an insight into this very Spanish tradition. The fine Museo Taurino is also here, and the architecture will be of interest even to those with no interest in la corridas (bullfights). Bullfights are still held regularly here during the season, which runs roughly mid-May to September.
One of the largest rings in the bullfighting world, Las Ventas has a grand Mudéjar exterior and a suitably coliseum-like arena surrounding the broad sandy ring. It was opened in 1931 and hosted its first fight three years later; its four storeys can seat 25,000 spectators. Like all bullrings, it evokes more a sense of a theatre than a sports stadium. It also hosts concerts.
To be carried high on the shoulders of aficionados out through the grand and decidedly Moorish Puerta de Madrid is the ultimate dream of any torero (bullfighter) – if you’ve made it at Las Ventas, you’ve reached the pinnacle of the bullfighting world. The gate is suitably known more colloquially as the ‘Gate of Glory’. Guided visits (in English and Spanish) take you out onto the sand and into the royal box; tours must be booked in advance through Las Ventas Tour.
The Museo Taurino was closed for renovations and expansion at the time of research. When it reopens, expect a new space dedicated to bullfighting legend Manolete, as well as a curious collection of paraphernalia, costumes (the traje de luces, or suit of lights, is one of bullfighting’s most recognisable props), photos and other bullfighting memorabilia up on the top floor above one of the two courtyards by the ring. It's a fascinating insight into the whole subculture that surrounds bullfighting.
The area where the Plaza de Toros is located is known as Las Ventas because, in times gone by, several wayside taverns (ventas), along with houses of ill repute, were to be found here.