Remembering Paquirri – the Ronda bullfighter who took Pamplona’s San Fermin festival by storm

Remembering Paquirri – the Ronda bullfighter who took Pamplona’s San Fermin festival by storm

Paul Whitelock attended his first corrida de toros at the age of 21 when he was living in San Sebastián in the Basque country. His Spanish friends urged him to travel inland to Pamplona to the Fiesta de San Fermín, and there he saw his first bullfight. The torero was Paquirri.

The Fiesta de San Fermín is the annual bullfighting festival in Pamplona where every morning at 7.00 am the six bulls for that afternoon’s corrida are run through the streets of the Pyrenean town from the stables to the plaza de toros. Aficionados a los toros, drunks and American tourists run ahead of the bulls to show how brave and macho they are (or stupid!)

There is the odd death, but plenty of gorings and/or tramplings. It’s called the encierro, the running of the bulls.

So, off we went, Jane, Gill and I in the boss’s car – he lent it to me! We drove through the night to arrive before 7.00 am and take up our positions behind the barrier. A gun was fired at 7.00 am and the runners set off, as 100 metres behind the stable doors were opened. Six fearsome looking beasts, weighing half-a-ton each, exited at pace, accompanied by several oxen to help keep the bulls together in a group.

It was all over in no time, as the onrushing people and bulls disgorged into the bullring. There were no deaths or serious injuries that day.

We spent the day wandering around before returning to the plaza de toros for the bullfight, actually six, two bulls for each torero.

Well, I loved it: the atmosphere amongst the packed crowd, the skill and artistry of the toreros and their bravery in making the kill at the end of their 20-minute slot made it a cultural spectacle that I’ve never forgotten. Animal lovers say it’s cruel, an unfair fight. It’s not a sport. Corrida de toros has been mistranslated into English as bullfight. It’s not. Bullfights are reported in the culture pages of Spanish newspapers, not the sports section.

Back to my experience e that afternoon in 1971, the best torero was a little guy called Paquirri, just two years older than me, who went on to become the top bullfighter of his era. I didn’t know it back then, but Paquirri was from Ronda, where I have lived for the last 13 years.

I had not heard of Ronda at that time. I only became aware of the place when I started to read books by Ernest Hemingway. The US journalist and writer was hooked on the bulls. He was a frequent visitor to Pamplona and helped to popularise the Fiesta de San Fermín in the English-speaking world.

Hemingway was also often in Ronda, the home of modern bullfighting. Pedro Romero (1754 – 1839), from the town, “invented” bullfighting on foot. Prior to that the torero rode a horse.

Hemingway’s books on bullfighting include “Fiesta”, “Death in the Afternoon” and “The Sun Also Rises”, all three of which are still in print.


I have since discovered more about Paquirri. He is part of a bullfighting dynasty. His father Antonio Ordoñez, himself a top torero in his era, was great friends with Hemingway and also film actor and director Orson Welles, another bullfight fanatic, whose ashes were interred on Ordoñez’ finca near Ronda after his death in 1985.

Paquirri’s two sons were also famous toreros. The older son, Fran Rivera, retired in 2017 to take over the management of the bullring in Ronda.

Younger son Cayetano Rivera, is still active, but coming to the end of a career plagued by injuries, namely gorings.

Paquirri retired, but on an ill-advised comeback at the age of 36, he was badly gored in the ring at Pozoblanco (Córdoba) and died on the spot.

There was a TV movie in 2009 entitled “Paquirri” and a biography “Paquirri, en primera persona: La historia de una herencia”. Available from all good booksellers and

Paul Whitelock

About Paul Whitelock

Paul Whitelock is a retired former languages teacher, school inspector and translator, who emigrated to the Serranía de Ronda in 2008, where he lives with his second wife, Rita. He spends his time between Montejaque and Ronda doing DIY, gardening and writing.