May 24, 2019
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A new lease of life beckons for Morocco's last remaining bullring

Tangier, Morocco, Mar 14 (efe-epa).- One of Africa's only two remaining bullrings, which stands with its peeling facade in the Moroccan city of Tangiers and serves as a reminder of the Arab country's shared heritage with southwestern Europe, is set to undergo a redevelopment after decades of dereliction, authorities told EFE Thursday.

The bullring, which opened in August 1950, saw many a famed bullfighter take to its arena, including Luis Miguel "Dominguín," Miguel Báez Spínola known as "El Litri," or "El Cordobés" Manuel Benítez.

The deputy mayor of Tangier, Driss Riffi Temsamani, told EFE the town hall would like to see the now derelict building turned into a multipurpose space and has launched a tender for architecture students at Valencia's Polytechnic University to "explore possible architectural and urban development plans including its surroundings" with a prize of between 500 and 2,000 euros ($226 - $5,650).

The arena was built at the height of nationalist fervor during Gen. Francisco Franco's military dictatorship in Spain (1939-1975), during the Spanish protectorate of Morocco which included a northern strip on the Mediterranean and a southern segment near Cape Juby east of the Canary Islands.

However, the ring lasted as a hub of traditional Spanish spectacles for barely 6 years because, as historian Bernabé López García told EFE, the bullfighters and bulls had to be brought from mainland Spain incurring great costs.

By 1956, the year Morocco proclaimed its independence, the arena closed, although it briefly re-opened in 1970 with "El Cordobés" headlining and marking its final "corrida" (bullfight).

The ring has since been abandoned.

Even though locals still refer to the place as the bullring, most of them have never seen it in use.

It is viewed as a versatile space that has been used for varied activities such as trade fairs, boxing fights and concerts.

During the 1990s it was also used as a temporary detention center to contain the large influx of migrants from further south in Africa traveling to Europe.

What was designed to provide a stage for matadors and bulls has now become the home of a sprawling fig tree, a scrawny olive tree and rows of fresh laundry drying in the sun, which belong to one of four families squatting in the former bullring.

The squatters have been living in the arena for several years and claim to be descendants of Ahmed Yasini, the last usher to have worked at the ring, his son, Hasan Yasini, told EFE.

Whether this is true or not, Yasini holds the key to the only door that opens into the round plaza, as well as a series of documents issued by Spanish authorities, at the time the bullring was active, in his father's name.

Yasini was born, grew up and now lives with his wife and two young children on the ground floor of the building with three relatives.

A crumbling stage in the middle of the sandpit serves as a washing line upon which clean clothes are draped onto the oxidized structure.

The family has running water and electricity but not much else reminds of the building's former past.

No posters announcing the bullfights, no memorabilia, little by little visitors have stripped the building of any remnants of its history.

Yasini contacted the Spanish Consulate in Tangier several months ago in a bid to get some sort of recognition for his family or, even better, a reward for having kept the building going over the years.

He never got a reply.

The Moroccan government declared the bullring a protected national monument in 2016.

The other African bullring is located in Melilla, one of two Spanish enclaves on the continent's northern coast.

By Javier Otazu

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