Plaza de toros de Rasines. Provincia de Cantabria

Brief bullfighting history of Cantabria

Although it is a fact that bullfighting has its roots in the most ancient Mediterranean cultures, there is evidence that in the North of Spain there are already vestiges of a certain bullfighting activity at the beginning of the 16th century. Amongst several examples and samples that certify and corroborate this theory, the one by the chronicler Laurent Vital stands out, who in his description of the arrival in Spain in 1517 of the young Charles of Habsburg, the future Charles I of Spain and V of Germany, relates that there were several places that offered the young King, as entertainment, bullfighting activities. Among them, the Asturian town of Villaviciosa and the Cantabrian town of San Vicente de la Barquera entertained the monarch with bullfighting shows.

From a bullfighting point of view, Cantabria is possibly the most stable territory within the northern provinces of Spain. Its relationship with the Bull God was long ago circumscribed to a few towns, but these have continued to schedule events more or less continuously in recent years, with the exception of Castro Urdiales, a coastal town that practically borders the Basque Country, whose centenary bullring (1912) has been closed since 4 August 2007, when the rejoneadores Rui Fernandes, Javier Cano and Alfonso López Bayo made their last bullfight on six bulls of Cabrero and González.

Santoña, Ampuero, Rasines...

In addition to the bullring in Castro, there are four other bullrings in this beautiful community. Santoña is a bullring built in 1907 with the remains of the wall that surrounded this fishing town, which was remodelled a little over a decade ago to provide it with the stands it originally had.

Within the province, its festivities around the feast of the Virgen del Puerto, in September, are probably the most consolidated in the province, although the Feria de la Virgen Niña de Ampuero, an inland town in the Asón region, also enjoys a certain amount of popularity. It also has a bullring that has been in existence for more than a century (1910), where its famous bull runs, declared to be of Regional Tourist Interest, take place.

In times of economic boom, in the mid-1990s, other tourist towns such as Laredo or Noja also programmed bullfighting shows in portable bullrings, as did the industrial Torrelavega until the beginning of the previous decade, or in recent times, and with great success, Polaciones, Requejo, Rionansa or Tudanca, the birthplace of José María de Cossío*, or Pesaguero, located in the region of Liébana, near Potes, in the foothills of the Picos de Europa. These celebrations have also served to arouse curiosity and interest among the area’s enthusiasts.

*José María de Cossío was a Spanish writer and polygrapher, member of the Royal Spanish Academy and author of a monumental treatise on bullfighting.

Plaza de toros de Santoña
Santoña Bullring, Province of Cantabria, Spain

Los Martires bullring, Cantabria

But of all the bullrings in Cantabria, the most peculiar, and also the oldest, is in the small town of Rasines, a village located in the eastern part of the region, near Ampuero and Ramales de la Victoria, on the banks of the river Asón. Its population of around a thousand inhabitants, most of whom work in agriculture and livestock farming, worship the martyrs San Cosme and San Damián, in whose honour the town’s most emblematic monument – its bullring – stands next to the chapel where they are venerated.

The history of this bullring dates back to 1758, when it was built, and although there are records of its activity since 1766, it is believed that bullfighting events were already taking place before then. The so-called “Coso de los Mártires“, located on the outskirts of the village, to the right of the local road S-514, which joins the municipalities of Ramales de la Victoria and Colindres, is built on the side of one of the mountains surrounding the village, in the clearing of a pine and eucalyptus forest, on which the main arena is located.

It is a masonry and ashlar construction, 17.4 m long and 16.8 m wide, with a barrier and burladeros at the corners. The main gate is located to the south of the building. The boxes and bullrings are located on the north side of the building. Its most outstanding feature is the squareness of its bullring, which gives it a great attraction and an incomparable personality. These qualities, together with the marvellous natural surroundings where the bullring is located, make Rasines a unique place to witness bullfighting spectacles, in such a way that the bullring itself becomes the cornerstone of the show, even stealing the limelight from the bulls and bullfighters.

Plaza de toros de Rasines. Provincia de Cantabria
Image: Rasines Town Hall. Rasines bullring

Cuatro Caminos bullring, Santander

Above all of them, logically, in terms of capacity and importance, the capital of Cuatro Caminos in Santander (1890) emerges, with its unique architecture and excellent care, which is the focus and the regional reference point. Its Feria de Santiago, revitalised in the 80s of the last century by a Board of Directors imposed by the city council, boasts excellent health.

Every year the most brilliant matadors pass through it. The most consolidated figures, together with the novelties of each year, are interspersed in combinations of singular attraction, above all because they are headed by bulls from different breeds of cattle, always a reference point for the bulls of each era.

The charm of the city, its bay, its beaches of El Sardinero and Mataleñas, the Peninsula of La Magdalena, its monuments and buildings from all periods, from the avant-garde Botín Centre to its beautiful Gothic cathedral, and its wide range of leisure activities, together with the climate, its rich and varied gastronomy (rabas or anchovies from Santoña are a must), make the Cantabrian capital the ideal place to enjoy a few days off while you nourish and cultivate your love and passion for bullfighting.

Plaza de toros Santander
Imagen: José Miguel Arruego. Plaza de toros de Santader
José Miguel Arruego

José Miguel Arruego

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