Famous bullfighter Manolete during the festival of San Fermín, 1947.
Famous bullfighter Manolete during the festival of San Fermín, 1947.Tony Linck—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Famous bullfighter Manolete during the festival of San Fermín, 1947.
Matador Julian Marin and bull in the ring during a bullfight celebrating the Fiesta de San Fermín.
Matador and bull in the ring for a bullfight during the festival of San Fermín.
Matador Julian Marin and bull in the ring for a bullfight during the festival of San Fermín.
Matador in the bullring during the festival of San Fermín.
Matador Julian Marin and bull in the ring for a bullfight during the festival of San Fermín.
Matador Julian Marin and bull in the ring for a bullfight during the festival of San Fermín.
Matadors in the bullring during the festival of San Fermín.
Matador and bull in the ring for a bullfight during the festival of San Fermín.
Matador Julian Marin acknowledging the crowd after a masterful performance during a bullfight held during celebration of the festival of San Fermín.
Matador leaving the bull ring during the festival of San Fermín.
Famous bullfighter Manolete during the festival of San Fermín, 1947.
Tony Linck—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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Celebrate the Festival of San Fermín From Afar With Vintage Bullfighting Photos

Jul 07, 2015

The odds of obtaining a ticket to see the famous bullfights at the Festival of San Fermín in Pamplona, Spain, are about the same as the bulls’ odds for survival: not good. The centuries-old tradition, which begins every year on July 7, unfolds at Pamplona’s Plaza de Toros, the nearly 20,000 seats of which will undoubtedly be occupied in full.

For those who can’t make the trip, a look back at the bullfights held in 1947 provide a glimpse into the violent spectacle. One of the matadors photographed for LIFE, Manolete, was a Spanish bullfighter considered by many to be the best of all time. Though the bulls pictured here surely met a gruesome fate, so, too, did Manolete. The month after these photos were taken, he died after being gored by a bull in the town of Linares. Critics of bullfighting might call it justice. Francisco Franco, the Spanish dictator, called it a tragedy, ordering three days of national mourning to remember a Spanish hero.

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.

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