PLAZA DE ACHO. HISTORIA Y TRADICIÓN 1766-1944
Note: Quotes from the book are my translations.
PLAZA DE ACHO HISTORIA Y TRADICIÓN 1766-1944 is a historical book the content of which is in part true to its title, since it covers the history of the Plaza de Toros de Acho from 1766, when it was built until 1944, when it was completely remodeled and modernized resulting in the present bullring, where the famous Feria del Señor de los Milagros takes place annually.
I said “in part” because the theme of the book goes beyond what is stated in its title, because the author deals with the history of bullfighting in Lima, from its introduction in 1540 by the conquistadors, continuing with its development during colonial times, as well as during the time from the independence of Peru from Spain until 1944, when the Plaza de Acho was remodeled. The author also makes some historical references in his text to the development of toreo in Spain, to point out that changes which took place in Spain affected the nature of bullfighting in Lima. The book also addresses the particular native cultural characteristics that gave local color to Peruvian tauromaquia, especially during the times that, because of political and societal changes, bullfighting in Peru developed with very little contact with toreo in Spain.
Before I comment further about the content of the book I will make some observations about Dr, Héctor López Martínez, the author of this work. Dr. López is not a taurine writer as such; he is a well-known and respected Peruvian historian and professor, who has written more than thirty books about the history of Peru and the culture of its people. He published PLAZA DE ACHO on the subject of bullfighting, emphasizing that toreo is a popular cultural component of Peruvian society, with the dual goals of informing and entertaining the general public.
Therefore, he wrote this book using direct and clear prose, without the academic jargon that characterizes many academic history books. Nevertheless, since a historian is always a historian, the author often supports his generalization with a wealth of well-documented data, citing the origins of his sources, and sometimes he even includes specific details in his narration that might be interpreted as trivia by bullfighting aficionados, but they may be of interest to the researchers of a given historical period of Peru.
For instance, when referring to the primitive corridas celebrated in the Plaza de Armas of Lima in the 16th and 17th centuries, from old documents he quotes dates, names of authorities, noblemen who performed or were present at the festivities and names of the owners of the houses surrounding the public square where the spectacles took place, as well as other minute details of interest to historians. When describing the structure of the original Plaza de Acho built in 1776, he also lists and describes, among other things, the different facilities of the building, the material used for building them, the names and amounts of the medicines stored in the infirmary of the bullring, and the numbers of seats in each row of the stands, as well as the different prices that spectators paid for tickets to those seats.
Like those examples I could mention many others. But, in spite of historian Dr. Héctor López having the tendency to include, from time to time, information in the text that might not be of interest for the average reader, his narration flows so smoothly that it allows the reader to ignore the details if he so chooses, and become involved in the overall theme of the text and to enjoy the reading.
In the prologue of the book Marcial Ayaimoma Alvarado, President of the Congress of the Republic of Peru, reinforces the concept that the scope of this work goes beyond the history of the Acho Bullring, with the following statement:
PLAZA DE ACHO. HISTORIA Y TRADICIÓN 1766-1944 b y Héctor López Martínez is a precise and well documented history of bullfighting in Peru, beginning with its introduction in 1544 when, according to tradition, Governor Francisco Pizarro fought a bull on horseback at the Plaza de Armas, up to the remodeling of the present Acho Bullring, in 1944.
The content of PLAZA DE ACHO has been chronologically organized in four chapters, each dealing with the development of bullfighting in Lima during four historical periods, as the titles of the chapters indicate: I. “El toreo caballeresco. Los Siglos XVI Y XVII” (Noblemen’s Bullfighting 16th and 17th Centuries); II. “El Siglo de las Luces” (The Century of Enlightenment); III. “Entre el Virreinato y el Perú independiente” (Between the Viceroyship and Independent Peru); and IV. “Las grandes figuras 1900 a 1944” (The Great Bullfighters 1900-1944).
In those chapters the processes of the development of bullfighting are discussed. Also, the meaning of the text is reinforced with numerous illustrations such as reproductions of colorful paintings, drawings and old documents, and photos. We learn that from the conquest of Peru by Francisco Pizarro until the coronation of King Felipe V in 1700, bullfighting in Peru developed following the same path as bullfighting in Spain. In Lima, it was a formal and ceremonial spectacle, organized by the colonial authorities in the main square of the town ---la Plaza de Armas---to commemorate important events, and to impress the audience with the imperial power. In these functions there were military parades and the noblemen and military personal courageously demonstrated their fighting skills by lancing brave bulls and confronting them on horseback and. But Felipe V, the first king in Spain of the French Bourbon dynasty, in his attempt to introduce the French culture into his new kingdom, encouraged the Spanish nobility to give up the thrill of the arena for the pleasures of the royal court.
As a result, bullfighting in Spain was left to the plebeians, who converted the orderly spectacle into something completely different, which was chaotic, inhumane and brutal in its early days, before it developed into the elegant and artistic toreo practiced today. The noblemen and the gentlemen in the colony also followed the example of their peers in Spain, allowing the plebeians to become the protagonists of the fiesta. At this point Peruvian toreo developed its local characteristics, resulting in a toreo somehow different from the Spanish version. Examples of these local innovations in Peruvian toreo are the riding of brave bulls in the bullring and the capeing of bulls while riding on horseback, as well as the lack of the use of picadors performing in the corridas. Regarding the new course that the primitive and disorganized bullfights took in Lima, Professor López says:
And what was happening in our capital, in our midst? More or less we were following the example of what was taking place in Spain. Some bullfighters who fought on horseback, like rejoneadors and picadors, were coming to Lima from Spain. Also, “chaperone” toreros on foot, obviously of the worst standing in Spain, came. Nevertheless, they were the teachers of our bullfighters, who in the immense majority were blacks, mulattos, and persons of black and Indian mixed blood; let’s say they were slaves or emancipated slaves. It was considered that to confront a bull, and to be paid for it, was something despicable, and an honorable person should not commit this great fault, since this would not only dishonor him but his whole family as well.
The final chapter relates how bullfighting in Lima returned to its Spanish sources. It explains that the differentiations between Spanish and Peruvian toreo started to disappear at the end of 19th Century when some notable Spanish toreros began performing in the Plaza de Acho. Then, little by little, Peruvian toreo returned to its Spanish roots, when in the 20th Century many Spanish and Mexican bullfighters, including great stars as Gaona, “Joselito” and Belmonte, fought regularly in the Plaza de Acho, performing with local matadors. Also, at that time, to facilitate more modern bullfighting, brave bulls and cows were imported to Peru from Spain for breeding purposes, with the intention of increasing the bravery of the half-caste local cattle.
When I finished reading the well written 223 pages of PLAZA DE ACHO. HISTORIA Y TRADICIÓN 1766-1944 I had the feeling that assimilating the carefully documented facts about the development of bullfighting in Peru, detailed in the four chapters of this book, I have learned a great deal about facts that I only knew superficially. And, what is also of major importance is that I did it with enjoyment.
What more can we expect from reading a historical book than to be informed and to be entertained at the same time?