Madrid, Spain. The Museo Tourino is at the back of Las Ventas, the most famous bullfighting arena in the world, a beautiful example of Mudajar architecture. The museum logo (on the door) is charging straight at you. When I attended a bullfight, years ago, I hid behind my camera most of the time, truly terrified. Today I returned as a visitor, still trying to understand the ritual...
But I couldn't enter the museum here. I was directed to start at the front entry and take the self guided audio tour, through the building to the inside (back door entry) to the museum.
This was a very casual situation, and I mostly wandering freely and alone as I looked for the next stop...This is a functioning bullring, so it is not cleaned up, museum style.
The audio provides a lot of information about all the complexities of the tradition. But I was frustrated that the origin of bullfighting as a ritual, was never explained, or even pondered...
Stepping out into the bullring, all alone, was a visceral moment, literally the "center" of the experience!
The feeling intensified, visiting the matador's chapel...
And the infirmary, where a surgeon's diagram is posted by the door. There is no hesitation in the audio, about sharing the gory details of matador injuries.
Standing next to the stuffed bull, across from the arena bar, is almost too up close and personal.
By the time I got to the actual museum (where photos are not allowed), I'd already had the core vicarious experience. Inside the museum are serious tributes to specific legendary bulls, in the form of painted portraits and stuffed heads. There are extraordinary costumes, capes and swords of the legendary matadors. A bit of blood stain brings it all home.
Often a Museum proceeds the experience, as an "introduction", but here it follows the "experience" of the ring, giving the objects "gut" meaning. The poster on the outside is a final reminder that this is a functioning bullring.