The Bulls of Spain

Toro Osborne Vuelta a Espana Tour of Spain

A reader once asked via twitter what was the Spanish equivalent of sunflowers at the Tour de France. Just as the Tour de France has pretty clichés of riders rolling past fields of sunflowers, for me the Vuelta a Espana has hilltop hoardings of the bovine kind.

There’s a story behind this. It starts with vino de Jerez, the fortified wine from the city of Jerez that’s known as sherry in English. In the 1950s, in a bid to publicise its sherry, Spanish wine and spirits company Osborne Group erected large images of bulls. Wikipedia tells the tale (as well as providing the photo above):

They were in black (with the brand “Veterano” in red on it) advertising hoardings located on sites near to major roads throughout Spain. The original image was smaller and in a slightly different design. It got bigger as a law barred publicity within 150 meters of a road. Later on a new law was passed in 1994, this time prohibiting such advertising, and so the hoardings were to be removed. By this time the signs were nationally renowned, so although some campaigners wished them completely removed to fully comply with the intent of the law, public response resulted in the signs being retained, but completely blacked out to remove all reference to the original advertisers. The Court eventually allowed these signs to remain on the grounds that it has become a part of the landscape where it is present and its “aesthetic or cultural significance” thus turning it into a figure of public domain.

It’s a bit like the Hollywood sign, put up for advertising but kept once they entered the public conciousness. Note how the ruling to remove the signs from the roads just made the company make bigger ones to put beyond the legal distance.

Toros map
Todos los toros

Roadside adverts like this have largely died out and been replaced with billboards where the image and message can be changed regularly. But some other examples are preserved for example painted water towers and others landmarks.

This piece is a retread from 2011 but there are many more readers these days so it’s worth sharing again, more so as its timely with the Vuelta stage on Saturday which starts in Jerez de la Frontera, the home of sherry wine and where there’s the greatest concentration of these adverts. Expect to see one during the TV coverage tomorrow.

15 thoughts on “The Bulls of Spain”

    • Absolute right, guess some INRG is confused with the Jerez in”Brandy de Jerez”.
      Though sherry comes from Jerez (that’s also were the name sherry origin ), and Osborne also sells sherry, the bull is all about “Veterano”.
      Which is btw. not bad, but only a Solera, the cheapest Spanish brandy. If you want taste better brandy stuff, go for a Solera Gran Reserva like “Gran Duque d’Alba”, “Cardenal Mendoza”, “Carlos I” or “Carlos III” 😉

  1. Mr Inring, things you share are just golden nuggets.

    My high school geography teacher ( if alive) would be jealous of all this stuff.

  2. In Andalucia you also see the competing brand Gonzales Byas ‘Tio Pepe’ man standing on a few hillsides in a battle for the best roadside silhouette.

  3. Nice bit, thanks. Reminds me of CINZANO and how it relates to Italian cycling. How many folks remember the truck in the movie Breaking Away? Far fewer know what Cinzano actually is, but like this booze in Spain it’s come to be identified with Italian cycling, for better or worse. Did the Veterano folks ever sponsor a cycling team?

  4. Thanks so much for great post.

    These bulls are so prominent related to the Vuelta that they actually feature in “Nasu: Summer in Andalusia”, an animation film about a stage in Vuelta. When I saw the film, I thought there was just the bull outside the finishing town in Iberian where the animation crew did their scouting. Didn’t realise the Bulls are actually all over Spain.

    Besides, “Nasu: Summer in Andalusia” is a fantastic film about cycling (by Kitarō Kōsaka, the director behind the Oscar winning “Princess Mononoke” ), featuring a T-Mobile sprint train called “P-Phone”, a team almost out of sponsor and a domestique almost out of job because he doesn’t get on with the leader.

  5. I think it’s worth noting that the “Toro the Osborne” is a very big cliché in Spain, just like the flamenco dancer. And this bull silhouette, while surely it’s nothing bad in itself, it’s not very much appreciated by a lot of spanish people, especially from places like Catalonia or Basque Country but also other parts of the country. It is perceived as a symbol of a backward country that still carries on the worst traditions and is unable to modernize. It is also linked to the most “unionist” perception of Spain, contrary to the nationalist sensibilities of some of its regions, just like those mentioned before. It’s quite easy today, in lots of international sports events –Tour de France, for example, to see people fluttering Spanish flags with the bull painted in it, which I found particularly annoying.

    • Well said. This symbol represents the worst type of spanish right wing conservative nationalism and is used mainly as a symbol of opression of non Castillian speaking parts of the state of Spain. It is generally very much disliked in Catalunya.

  6. Part of the parcel living in a post-modern society. You can erect a symbol, but control its meaning is impossible if not a meaningless act in itself.

    Can’t say most aboriginal Africans appreciate the way their symbols was used in the primitive art movement or by Picasso.

  7. Love the bull story! It’s like the barn roofs painted with “See Rock City” in the eastern US. What was a 1930s advertising campaign is now folk lore. I’m surprised that the Bulls were that recent though.
    btw Rock City IS worth seeing, if you are in the neighborhood.

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