Bullfighting, or more properly tauromachie, comes in two styles in Arles and the Camargue. In the local courses camarguaises, held at fêtes from late spring to early autumn (the most prestigious of which is Arles’ Cocarde d’Or, on the first Monday in July), razeteurs pluck ribbons and cockades tied to the bulls’ horns, cutting them free with special barbed gloves. In this gentler bullfight, people are rarely injured and the bulls are not killed.
More popular, however, are the brutal Spanish-style corridas (late April, early July & Sept at Arles), consisting of a strict ritual leading to the all-but-inevitable death of the bull. After its entry into the ring, the bull is subjected to the bandilleros who stick decorated barbs in its back, the picadors, who lance it from horseback, and finally, the torero, who endeavours to lead the bull through a graceful series of movements before killing it with a single sword stroke to the heart. In one corrida six bulls are killed by three toreros, for whom injuries (sometimes fatal) are not uncommon.
While outsiders may disapprove, tauromachie has a long history here, and offers a rare opportunity to join in local life. It’s also a great way to experience Arles’ Roman arena in use. Assorted bullfighting events are staged at Les Arènes between Easter and October each year, including non-fatal courses camarguaises at 5.30pm each Wednesday & Friday from early July until late August; ticket prices range from €10 for the courses camarguaises up to €97 for a prime spot at a corrida (wwww.arenes-arles.com).