Is It Wrong To Attend La Course Camarguaise (Provencal Bullfighting)?

Razeteurs and one bull-Cocarde d'Or
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I got flack back in July on a social media platform after I shared a photo of an event that I went to in Arles, a popular town in the south of France. The criticism stemmed from the use of bulls in “La Course Camarguaise”—Provencal bullfighting—stating that the spectacle was cruel to the animals.  The event that I went to was the finale of the Arles Festival and this event has been going on for decades. Was it wrong to attend la course camarguaise—-the Cocarde d’Or? You be the judge.

La Course Camarguaise

As compared to the traditional Spanish bullfight (corridas), in la course camarguaise, no bulls are killed. Spanish corridas are still legal and protected in some parts of interior Spain and in other parts of Spain the corridas are banned.

The course camarguaise tradition originated in the Camargue region of France in the early 1400s.  The Camargue is an area of marshland, located south of Arles and it is known for the wild horses, flamingoes, birds, and bulls which inhabit the area.

In the Provence and Languedoc areas of southern France, many towns (especially Arles and Nimes) host an event called La Course Camarguaise that involves young men, called razeteurs, dressed in white, who try to grab the ribbon (rosette) off the bull’s horn. These razeteurs are extremely agile as they run at great speed and are often forced to jump into the bleachers of the stadium to avoid getting gored by the bull.

The Cocarde d’Or

Arles Amphitheatre (J. Chung)
Arles Amphitheatre (J. Chung)

The Cocarde d’Or (Golden Rosette) has been running since 1927 and when I discovered this grand finale was going to be held in Arles, I got a ticket (20 Euros) for a reserved seat. The Arles amphitheater was built in Roman times (90 AD) and is the perfect arena for concerts and events, so why not see a bullfight?

Cocarde d'Or Opening Ceremony (J. Chung)
Cocarde d’Or Opening Ceremony (J. Chung)
Cocarde d’Or Opening Ceremony (J. Chung)
Cocarde d'Or Opening Ceremony (J. Chung)
Cocarde d’Or Opening Ceremony (J. Chung)

There are courses camarguaises competitions from April to October throughout this area of Provence but the Cocarde d’Or was especially important as the evening opened with a big ceremony with men and women in traditional costumes, parading and dancing to music. In the ceremony, there are also children, magnificent white horses, and of course, the razeteurs. It was really beautiful to watch and lasted about 25 minutes before the first bull came out.

Provencal Bullfighting At The Cocarde d’Or

Grabbing the ribbon from the bull at la course camarguaise (J. Chung)
Grabbing the ribbon from the bull at la course camarguaise (J. Chung)

After the opening ceremonies, the main show begins and the first bull enters the arena followed by approximately 16 razeteurs, who are dressed in the required white tops and trousers. During the competition:

  • there area 6 bulls who will compete. They take turns going into the arena and they stay for 15 minutes. 
  • the razeteurs provoke and yell at the bull to get its attention and they run around and towards the bull, trying to snatch the rosette or string off its horn using a “crochet”, which is like a claw or hook.
  • points are accumulated and prizes are given to those razeteurs who are able to remove the most items from the bull’s horn.
  • the Golden Rosette and a cash bonus are awarded to the razeteur who has the most points.

At the end of the event, the bulls return to their farms to freely roam and graze on the plentiful grass. After about 8 seasons, the bull is retired and lives the rest of its life quietly in the Camargue.

The Controversy

Poster: Bull fighting at the Corcarde d'Or
Corcarde d’Or poster

Of course, the bull will have none of this taunting and will try to chase the razeteurs who get too close. The stars of the show are NOT the young men, but rather the bulls!  As mentioned, no bulls are killed and no blood is spilled. I stressed this in my comments but that didn’t seem to matter. The commenters felt this activity on goading the bull (and even having the event) was cruel and wrong.

It is certainly tame (and kinder to bulls) than the traditional “corrida” where the bull is killed. The bulls in the course camarguaise are taunted and annoyed, but they are also highly revered by the crowd. In Arles, there is a bull statue and the posters promoting the Cocarde d’Or highlight the bull, not the razeteur.

Homage to the bull in Arles, France (J. Chung)
Homage to the bull in Arles, France (J. Chung)

These bulls at the course camarguaise are the lucky ones. The farmers breed bulls on stud farms (manades) for bullfighting and for food. Bull meat is lean and you will often find it on the menu in this region. Those bulls who are not chosen to be in the course camarguaise herd are sold to slaughter. The farmers take great honor when their bull does well at an event but they also need to sell some bulls for meat to make a living.

Is It Wrong To Attend La Course Camarguaise?

The Complaints:

After I posted my picture, some commenters on the social media platform made statements such as:

“Just get rid of it completely!”

“[It’s] even less fun for the bulls”

“Any tourist show/activity that involves animals causes that animal extreme stress and should be avoided”

“Ban it altogether!”

“Would this animal be here doing this if a human wasn’t forcing it to do it? If the answer is “no,” then skip it.”

So, as you can see, there were some strong comments and afterward, it did make me think. I will be honest and say that halfway into the event I was bored. I loved the opening ceremonies and pageantry and seeing the performers in their traditional costumes.  It was fun to watch the razeteurs run from the bull and jump into the stands, but after a while, it got to be the same ol’ thing. I got bored and it was incredibly hot, so I left before it was over.

Governing Body:

I enjoy attending local events and seeing the Cocarde d’Or in such a historic amphitheater made it all that more unique. There is the Federation Franchise de la Course Camarguaise that regulates these events. The razeteurs attend bullfighting schools but what I don’t know is how the Federation keeps tabs on the bulls’ living conditions or their training.

Animals And Tourism:

I am certainly against animal cruelty, especially for tourism reasons (ie. in Vietnam and other places where the elephants have been cruelly treated and kept in captivity for the purposes of training them to give rides to tourists). I do not know how the bulls are trained or cared for but it has made me pause and think about this type of sport.

I’m not sure how the course camarguaise differs, however, from say, rodeo events at the Calgary Stampede or horse racing for that matter. Maybe that’s the point these commenters were making. Should ALL “shows” involving animals be stopped?

Final Thoughts:

It’s up to you to decide if you’d ever like to see a Provencal bullfight. Certainly, the opening ceremonies at the Cocarde d’Or were very enjoyable, but I’m not sure you get that kind of show at every course camarguaise.

The Cocarde d’Or

The Cocarde d’Or takes place the first Monday in July and the show starts at 5:30 pm. Next year’s Cocarde d’Or and tickets can likely be found on the Arles Arena Website.

Federation Franchise de la Course Camarguaise website which publishes all the events.Is it wrong to attend La Course Camarguaise-Provencal Bullfighting

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2 Comments

  1. I’m a fan of course camarguaise and go once or twice a year, as I live part-time in Provence. I enjoy the spectacle and the excitement of the match, though pre-game shows as elaborate as the one you saw are rare. My wife particularly likes the “tight white pants” of the razeteurs. And the matches are usually more even than yours, with less than half the number of razeteurs as those shown in your video.

    Is it stressful for the bulls? Yes, that’s a fair point. Is it cruel? The bulls are taunted and made to run around for 15 minutes a few times a year, and in exchange they avoid the slaughterhouse. I wouldn’t call that cruel, but reasonable people can disagree.

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