Deadly Spanish Bullfights: A History Of Casualties

Tara Jessop

The most iconic of Spanish sports is also its most controversial: the ancient practice of bullfighting has attracted growing criticism from animal rights groups, bemoaning what they see as the cruel treatment of bulls. Tradition has it that the bull is stabbed with blades named vara, weakening the animal before it’s eventually executed. However, as the recent death of Victor Barrio reminds us, the sport can be fatal for the matador or ‘killer’ himself. We look back at the history of human casualties of bullfighting in Spain.
The most recent human fatality in bullfighting in Spain occurred in July 2016 – the first of its kind this century – when the young Spanish matador, Victor Barrio, was gored and trampled by the bull he was fighting. Broadcast live on television, the event drew a wave of both sympathy and criticism from those who believe the sport should be banned.

- embed -

In a country where you can find a doctor specializing in bullfight puncture wounds, known as cornadas, it may come as no surprise that this is not the first incident where the matador may suffer the fate intended for his adversary. In total it’s believed that some 534 professional bullfighters have died as a result of the sport in the past 300 years. Prior to Barrio’s death, the last matador to perish in a fight was 21-year-old Jose ‘El Yiyo’ Cubero Sanchez, who died in August 1985 after being struck through the heart by the bull’s horn; he died on the spot.

However, it’s often not those who perish but those that narrowly survive who are most remembered. One of the most famous matadors of all times, Juan Belmonte, is believed to have suffered over 24 major injuries as well as many more minor ones. The bullfighter, a close friend of author Ernest Hemingway, was terribly injured during his career that he was eventually told by his doctor that he could no longer ride a horse, smoke cigars, sleep with women or drink wine. It is believed that after hearing this news he was known to have ridden a horse to his countryside home, drank wine and slept with two ladies of the night before shooting himself with a pistol.

Juan Belmonte

More recently, bullfighter Joan José Padilla made headlines when he was gored in a fight, the bull’s horn pierced his jaw before exiting through his left eye. In a remarkable show of defiance, the matador returned to the ring just five months after the incident in which he lost his eye as well as hearing in his right ear, wearing an eye-patch which earned him the nickname ‘The Pirate’.

The sport continues to draw fervent support from those who consider it an important part of Spain’s cultural heritage. Following the latest incident, defenders of the sport and those who decry it as barbaric clashed furiously on social media, with many claiming that the matador suffered the fate he deserved for participating in the bullfights. However, supporters of the sport have threatened legal action over those they deem to be guilty of hate crimes for their public rejoice at the man’s death.

However long it takes before the next human life is claimed in the ring, one thing is sure: the sport remains highly divisive in Spain and continues to draw as much criticism as it does support.

culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.