When I say “Chasing the black bulls of Spain” you must understand this is not an actual recommendation. Particularly after a recent guest of Los Castaños fell literally foul of a bull at Pamplona, I certainly would not recommend getting too close to the real thing. Here we are talking about the big black bulls of Spain that decorate some of the highways and byways.
The stereotype most non-Spanish had of Spain used to embody the fearsome Duke of Alba, the grotesque Franco, the horrendous Inquisition.
But times change and Spain is now all about flamenco and flounces, Carmen and castanets, bravado and bulls.
If we leave aside la leyenda negra aspects of Spain that were used by her rivals to vilify her, we are left with bravado and the black bulls!
These are both personified in the Osborne bulls, enormous black creatures that glare over the Spanish countryside. The fourteen-meter high silhouettes were erected in 1956 to advertise Osborne brandy but, when the 1988 law forbade any roadside hoardings, the government ordered them to be removed within a year.
But the people protested. A nationwide protest followed this attempt to destroy what had become the unofficial emblem of Spain. An early example of people power, the supreme court held in 1997 that the bulls were to remain but without advertising the Osborne name.
More than five hundred wooden bulls existed originally but just 91 remain still proudly guarding the roads of Spain, They are now metallic to better endure and the majority (24) are to be found in Andalucia as is fitting, Osborne being a Jerez-based company. Only two still bear the Osborne name. To search them all out would be an amusing way to explore this lovely country. Should you have a notion to do so Google has a map marking them all. One could photograph them all to prove discovery I suppose but as they are identical, it might be pointless. But one could keep a notebook and record which ones were sighted or one could use this handy list and check them off!
Over the years, these iconic bulls have been used for political purposes which often ended with a short house arrest. One artist, protesting the discrimination of women, transformed a bull in Extramadura into a cow. Another artist used the black bull to honour Picasso and his Guernica.
A silly aside:
I once engaged in a similar quest in the United States where road trips can be long and unpunctuated by castles begging to be explored. To relieve the boredom on one such adventure, I began a collection of number plates from the fifty United States. It took a year, the last six months of which were spent looking for the last state, Rhode Island.