In 1936, the commune of Maquiatauro found itself on the front lines of the Spanish Civil War. Both the Republicans and the Nationalists coveted the town’s strategic location, but the citizenry threw in their lot with the anarcho-syndicalists of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT).

Opposed to both the Nationalist rebels and the Republican government but nominally allied with the latter, the CNT redistributed land, founded agricultural communes, and perhaps most importantly for Maquiatauro’s traditional culture, reopened the Plaza del Toros bullring for the traditional sport of bullfighting under the ownership and management of the matadors, picadors, and the communal farms which had taken over the traditional estates and provided the bulls for the ring. The Republican authorities were uneasy about this, as many of them saw bullfighting as a cruel and backward sport with no place in modern Spain, but they were in no position to act on these feelings.

In 1938, the front lines shifted dramatically around Maquiatauro in response to the great Nationalist drive at the Battle of Teruel and the Republican counterattack in the Battle of the Ebro. The CNT anarcho-syndicalists refused to allow Republican troops in the city but with a crack Nationalist unit massing nearby, the Republic feared that the town’s militia would be unable to mount an effective defense. As a result, both Republican and Nationalist troops moved on the city almost simultaneously.

This led to one of the most bizarre episodes of the war. The Plaza del Toros had been prepared for a major bullfight when the shooting started, and the Maquiatauro anarchist militia melted away between the two invading forces. The front lines soon reached the bullring. Incensed at the interruption and fearing reprisals no matter which side won, the bullfighters released all of their bulls into the arena and opened all its doors.

The ensuing panic among battle-hardened Republican and Nationalist troops in Maquiatauro, including instances of bulls charging and overrunning machine gun nests and bitter enemies joining together to battle the rampaging beasts with bullet and bayonet, would be remembered for years as the Gunning of the Bulls.

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