Tourada à corda – bulls in Terceira

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Ostatnia aktualizacja: 2020-05-03. Autor: Milena

Tourada à corda, or a story about bulls running on the streets

I was with a Polish friend who was on Terceira on Erasmus, on a tourada. He spotted someone in a Legia shirt in the crowd (Legia is a Polish football team). He told me: „Milena, look, there’s a guy in Legia’s shirt!” I wasn’t too conscious so I asked him what Legia’s shirt looks like. He explained, I spotted the man he was talking about and after a moment of hesitation we said: „Let’s go!”

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Nearby, there was a tasca (it’s kind of a foodtruck, seen here mainly at touradas and other special events), in which our countrymate was ordering something to drink. We told him „Good afternoon” and started a conversation. „What brought you to Terceira?”

„I came to Terceira especially to see the bulls!” – answered our interlocutor.

He amazed us enormously. We listened to his story: „I learned last year that there were bull runs in the Azores, and I wanted to see them. So I bought a ticket to the Azores and flew, but I got to São Miguel. And it wasn’t until I got there when I learned that I should have gone to Terceira. This year I came here.”

I was very surprised that someone flew through half of Europe and half of the Atlantic Ocean in order to see how bulls run in the streets, but as I thought later about the reactions of various friends of mine to this phenomenon – I stopped being surprised. Touradas à corda are definitely one of Terceira’s distinguishing features.

Tourada à corda, fot. Davide Tognini
Fot. Davide Tognini

Bulls on the street are normal here

At least from May 1 to October 15. During this period, touradas take place almost every day in one or more places. This means that the bulls, which are normally crowded in fields and pastures (right next to the cows, which are more numerous than people in the Azores), go out „into the street”. And they are more or less willing to meet the crowd of people gathered especially for them.

Tourada à corda is an event that unites the community

It’s a reason to meet, talk, spend time together. Lost wanderers will find a place on someone’s wall or even a yard. At this time, there are no differences between people – everyone wants to be safe and have the best perspective. To meet friends, laugh, hold your breath. Stay with each other in this exciting moment.

What is the tourada à corda?

Okay, so what’s the point?

Well, the tourada à corda means bulls running along the street, held on a rope by two groups of 3-5 men each, called pastores (shepherds). The bull is usually mature and experienced in battle (although there are also younger and unfamiliar with the subject), and pastores – tough and hungry for adrenaline. And dressed in white shirts, gray or black pants and black hats. Daredevils annoy bull often equipped with umbrellas or sheets, and the entire spectacle is watched by the people gathered in the surrounding courtyards and fences.

Tourada à corda, fot. Davide Tognini
Fot. Davide Tognini

How to behave on tourada

Before I mention the tradition of quinto touro, which is associated with the great hospitality of the inhabitants of Terceira and the unification of the community, maybe a few words about how to behave on tourada and what technical issues related to it look like.

First of all – take care of your safety

If your health and life are valuable to you, then you better watch out. Check in advance exactly where and when the tourada is taking place and appear there at least half an hour earlier. Tourada can be an exciting but also dangerous event. From the technical point of view – insurance doesn’t cover close meetings with a bull. If something happens to you, it is only your fault, so it’s better to take care of yourself in advance and find a place where you will definitely be safe.

Second of all – leave the car away

Leave the car far away (usually there will be no more places nearby anyway, all surrounding roads will be blocked) and come to the tourada by foot. Why? Well, so that by any chance your car doesn’t become interesting for a bull. No insurance will cover this for you. Tourada should not start if there are vehicles on its route, but it’s better not to risk it.

Third of all – find a suitable place

The bull usually runs along a street about 500 m long. If you want a good view, you have to find a place either along this street, on a safe (high!) wall or behind a fence. Most fences are protected with boards at this time – this applies to both private properties and tascas, i.e. the foodtrucks mentioned above, which are extremely popular during touradas.

(Digression – you will buy in tascas beer, local liqueurs and aguardente, i.e. local moonshine, as well as bifanas, i.e. buns with a cutlet – the most popular local fast-food. And you will find peanuts, olives and lupine grains to be eaten. The owners of the tascas often offer their guests beer and don’t like „no” as an answer).

If you don’t know where to hide – ask someone. Even if (s)he doesn’t speak English, (s)he’ll show you a safe place anyway. And if the bull is already on the street, and you haven’t found your place yet – stay where you are (as long as it’s not at the bull’s route). At the end of the bull’s „route” there’s a policeman and three white lines. Stay behind the third, which means a safety zone. Of course, unless the bull breaks from the rope etc. etc., but that’s another story.

Fourth of all – listen to the sound signs

Four bulls take part in the tourada, but they are not released at the same time. All bulls wait in their cages for their turn and are released one by one. Letting the bull out of the cage is announced with one shot from the flare. You should be in a safe place at this time.

The bull runs about 15-30 minutes, then it’s led back to the cage. When the bull is back in the cage, you will hear two flare shots. They announce the beginning of a break, which usually lasts about 10-15 minutes. During the break, you can go for a walk or eat in nearby tascas.

Another bull – another single shot from the flare. And so until the fourth. After the fourth – as many shots from the flares as there are left.

Tourada à corda, fot. Davide Tognini
Fot. Davide Tognini

True story

Let me illustrate all the above. In May I went with my friends to a tourada in São Mateus. We weren’t sure what time that tourada was and where exactly. We got to the place „more or less on time, more or less where it’s supposed to be”. We saw a lot of people and we knew it had to be here. At one point I heard a flare shot. Pale with fear I told my friends: „They just let the bull out, we have to find a place!”

We were literally in the middle of the route. We saw people running and we also started running. We ran into a small side street, climbed a high wall (probably only with the help of adrenaline, because the wall was completely flat, there was nothing to grab) and… we saw the owner of the house to which the wall belonged. My friend was afraid that the owner would drive us away. And what did the owner do? He said: „Go over there, from there you will have a better view!” – and even went up the ladder to help us get off the high wall!

Quinto touro, i.e. the fifth bull

After the tourada mentioned above, we politely got off the fence and went to eat bifana in one of the tascas, but for many people the touradas end differently. At the end the main attraction is often the quinto touro, i.e. the fifth bull.

Quinto touro is nothing else than a big party in houses or garages located on the street where the tourada takes place. The owner of the house sets the table with local delicacies and cares for the right amount of beer and sangria, and invites family and friends, and friends of his family, and friends of his friends for a decent treat.

Some people willingly start with the „fifth bull” before the first one gets released. Some don’t even see any of the four, only for a few hours (sometimes until the morning) integrate with their friends. No, not only on Friday or Saturday – on any day of the week. Why wait with enjoying life until the weekend, if you can do it every day?

Controversy around the topic

The history of touradas on Terceira dates back to the early 17th century. The inhabitants of Terceira have bulls in their blood. Bulls are not killed on Terceira (even during spectacular touradas in a special arena, with professional bullfighters). This is a great difference compared to the Spanish corrida.

After all, bulls are a very controversial topic. Opponents of touradas (especially those in the arenas that actually look different than the described tourada à corda) point out that the animals are in an unnatural situation, is surrounded by people who irritate them, and thus exposed to high stress. Tourada is the cause of high fatigue of the bull and can lead to injuries – often the bull falls over on a slippery surface (when the tourada is e.g. after rain) or tangles in a rope.

To the argument „bulls are an element of local tradition”, opponents of touradas answer that slavery also used to be an element of tradition. And they remind you that if people want sports with a high dose of adrenaline, they can always compete with each other.

Touradas are actually an element of tradition

It cannot be denied.

It’s a tradition that unites the inhabitants of the island, which gives an excuse to meet, to make an effort, prepare food, meet people that you haven’t seen for a long time. There are people on the island who go on all or almost all the touradas. Knowledge of bulls and how they behave on touradas is a hobby at the level of knowledge of the favorite sports teams’ results. You can buy key chains engraved with initials in the souvenir shops. No, these are not the initials of a beloved one. They are the initials of bull owners who are important members of the community.

One of the bull owners recently died. He died a day or two before the tourada, which he always exposed bulls to. Pastores in traditional costumes paid tribute to him, as did many other people from the community. And the streets on the tourada were empty – a large number of people remained at home, deep in sorrow.

Tourada à corda is a social event. Can you find another reason to celebrate and meet friends? You definitely can. You just have to learn it. Will the inhabitants of Terceira continue their tradition, or change their form or replace a new one – time will tell. For now, it is worth knowing about what constitutes one of the core of the island. And form your own opinion on this subject.


Photos by Davide Tognini
Davide, thank you for letting me use your photos for this article!


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