I first saw Plaza del Coso from the top of Penafiel castle. A tour guide with a thick brown beard pointed it out to me – a small sandy square surrounded by tall houses with red roofs. “It is the only functioning square bullring in the world” he grinned. His Russian clients looked bored.
We drove in to Penafiel, parked the car near a smart, glass fronted restaurant and walked through a narrow alley and entered the old square. Penafiel castle with its gleaming white stones provided the backdrop for the square and its forty-seven ancient houses.
The Russians were already there. One was trying to ape a fighting bull, bent double and with his fore fingers as horns on his head. He looked like a hunk of lard. The women laughed and took his picture. The guide looked bored.
The houses were all two or three stories high and had ornate wooden balconies. According to old Penafiel customs, some residents of the town had the right to watch bullfights from these balconies, even if they did not own the houses! This happens for five days in August during the fiesta of Nuestra Señora and San Roque when every evening at five, town folk with singers and musicians march from Plaza de Espna to the bullring. Men and women throw water from balconies. There would be a bull run (encierro) every morning at nine. The bullfights in Plaza del Coso are capeas with one bull in the ring and another outside. Men have fun and sometimes, get hurt. There are fireworks, singing and dancing and torrents of Ribeira wine in the night.
We walked back to the car thinking of Tinto Fino and ‘baby lamb’ Maria was cooking for dinner at the La Vida. The Russians, still laughing, headed towards the corner bar with the flashing red neon sign saying Estella. The guide followed.
- Feeling Medievel in Peñafiel (magellanstraits.com)