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What is that bull seen on Spanish roadsides?

What is the bull in Spanish roads
“Fighting bull sign flickr photo shared by Steve Slater (used to be Wildlife Encounters) under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

Many tourists may assume the bull is related in some way linked to the bull fights that Spain is so well-known for.  However, there is a long and interesting history associated with these gargantuan, artistic statues.

How it all began…

The bull is officially the “Bull of Osborne” or “El Toro de Osborne”.  The Osborne Group was originally a wine vineyard, but also produces brandy and runs a chain of restaurants and hotels.  It is one of the older family businesses in Spain, beginning in 1772.  Over the years, the company has grown and become part of the culture of Spain, largely thanks to unexpected results from a publicity campaign that began in 1956.  The company hired a publicity agency called “Azor”.  The director and artist, Manolo Prieto, created the plans for the famous bull to adorn highways throughout Spain.

The bull went through several transformations over the years, growing from 4 meters tall to a whopping 14 meters tall.  The final roadside billboard that has remained the same since 1961 is made of metal and weighs an impressive 4,000 kilos.  It is anchored into the ground by scaffolding that stands behind the bull.

Controversy

In 1988, changes in Spain’s highway laws ordered that all publicity be removed from state roadsides.  However, this law nearly caused a revolution.  Artists, cultural groups, municipal governments and the community at large banded together to request that the government allow the famous Bulls of Osborne to remain standing.  This large group of supporters insisted that the bulls were no longer simple advertising, but an integral part of the culture itself.  By 1997, a final decision had been made.  The Bulls of Osborne were allowed to remain on the highways in interest of the aesthetic and cultural attributes they contribute to the country.

The Osborne Bull Today

Although many consider it to be a symbol of Spain itself, it is still the intellectual property of the Osborne Group.  It is the company’s official logo.  Recent court rulings have determined that the it’s illegal to copy or reproduce the logo without authorization.

Currently there are around 90 large bull billboards distributed across the country.  However, the Bull of Osborne is also frequently seen on bumper stickers, keyrings, hats, t-shirts and other souvenir items.   The Osborne Group has made these items available, encouraging the spread of this popular symbol.

Despite the fact that the bull is widely accepted and appreciated in Spain, a small number of groups have vandalized the bulls to call attention to their causes.  One group painted the bull located in Mallorca with the colors of the gay flag.  In another instance, a bull in Galicia was painted orange in rejection of the symbol.

Nevertheless, the symbol is well-known on an international level and quite popular.  If you are going to visit Spain, you’re sure to see the Bull of Osborne somewhere, whether on the roadside or on a bumper.  When you do, now you’ll know the story.