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When the bullfighting writer and critic from Aragon, Mariano de Cavia, described Rafael Molina Sánchez “Lagartijo” as the Caliph of bullfighting, he was creating what was to become the most prized trophy for bullfighters from Cordoba; the Caliphate, Cordoba’s great contribution to the history of bullfighting. It was synonymous with being the most highly rated bullfighter in Cordoba.

The Caliphate can be defined as follows:

Firstly, they must be born in Cordoba. At a minimum, they must be ranked among the top three bullfighters for six consecutive seasons. They must have a profound impact on the bullfighting world, making their mark as they exercise their profession. They must receive the recognition and respect of the public, be considered the top bullfighter during their career and become the focus of public attention. They must show off their Cordoban origins in bullrings throughout the world and, finally, the majority of the fans must be calling for them to be named a Caliph.

The Caliphate is Cordoba’s greatest contribution to the history of bullfighting.

The First Caliph was Rafael Molina Sánchez “Lagartijo” (1841-1900). He was born in Cordoba. He was a banderillero (the bullfighter who uses the banderillas or barbed sticks) for Pepete and a member of the teams of his fellow Cordoban, Antonio Luque “Camará”, and the Sevillians José and Manuel Carmona, the famous “Gorditos”. He went on to be the assistant to Antonio “Gordito” and it was in his presence that he was initiated as a bullfighter in Madrid by Cayetano Sanz in 1865. Lagartijo was confirmed as the leading bullfighting figure in Spain up until 1893, when he retired. He organised five farewell bullfights in the bullrings of Zaragoza, Bilbao, Barcelona, Valencia and Madrid. He took part in 1,645 bullfights, stabbing 4,872 bulls. He fought bulls in Paris. A bullfighter with supreme elegance, distinguished, a complete master. He biggest rival was Frascuelo. All aspects of his bullfighting were impeccable; from the way he used the cape and the banderillas to his use of the muleta (the stick from which the red cape hangs). When he went in for the kill, with cunning and skill, he used those famous half thrusts that have gone down in history as “half lagartijeras”.

The Second Caliph provided by Cordoba for bullfighting was Rafael Guerra Bejarano “Guerrita” (1862-1941) who took the name “Llaverito” when he started in the “Team of Cordoban Boys” that was organised by “Caniqui”.

He was initiated in Madrid by his bullfighting maestro “Lagartijo” in 1871.

He was the first bullfighter to cross the Atlantic and he fought in Havana, Cuba and in Nimes, France.

Before he retired he took part in 892 bullfights and stabbed 2,577 bulls. After Paquiro, he was the most complete bullfighter, varied with the cape, flawless with the banderillas and masterly with the muleta, although his arrogance and self-importance in the bullring did not endear him to the critics or the crowds. He was gored ten times.

“Guerrita” retired from bullfighting without warning in the 1899 season. On the 15th of October he fought for the last time at the El Pilar Fair in Zaragoza.

After retiring, he created the top bullfighting centre in Cordoba, the Guerrita Club and the bullfight in honour of the women of Cordoba.

This long line of Cordoban bullfighters continued with the Third Caliph, Rafael González Madrid "Machaquito” (1880-1955). A bullfighter with immeasurable courage, in the style of Espartero. In the beginning he competed with Rafael Molina Martínez “Lagartijo Chico". He was initiated in Madrid in 1900 by Emilio Torres “Bombita”. In the early years of the 20th century, he competed with Vicente Pastor, with Rafael “El Gallo” and with the one and only “Bombita”. He fought bulls in America. He killed 1,856 bulls and took part in 754 bullfights before retiring. He was awarded the Cruz de Beneficencia (Charity Cross) for the courageous way in which he fought in Hinojosa del Duque when some of the stands collapsed and he risked his life to stab the bull that was in the ring at the time, which would have gored lots of spectators. His final bullfight was in Madrid in 1913, where he initiated Juan Belmonte. The sculptor Mariano Benlliure made a bronze sculpture in honour of this great maestro, entitled “A Machaquito thrust”, commonly known as “The afternoon thrust”, for the masterful way he handled the Miura fighting bull, Barbero, on the 7th of May 1907.

The bullfighting district of Santa Marina was relentless source of bullfighters during what is known as the golden age of Cordoba, starting with “Lagartijo”. And it was here that the Fourth Caliph was born, Manuel Rodríguez Sánchez "Manolete” (1917-1947). At the age of twelve he performed his first capotazos (movements of the cape to distract or attract the bull) and he toured Spain as a member of the “Caliphs” travelling show. In 1935 he was initiated by Rafael Jiménez "Chicuelo” in Seville, and in the same year he was confirmed by Marcial Lalanda in Madrid. His unique style achieved perfection when making the kill. He invented a pass that bore his name, “la manoletina”. Up until his premature death in Linares, he had only just turned thirty, he took part in 71 bullfights in bullrings throughout Spain and America. He had a great rivalry with the Mexican Carlos Arruza and the Spaniard Luis Miguel Dominguín. He died in Linares as a result of the goring inflicted upon him by the bull Islero in 1947.

Manuel Benítez “El Cordobés”, who was born in Palma del Río, was proclaimed the 5th Caliph. He was initiated in Cordoba in 1963, in the old Tejares bullring, by Antonio Bienvenida, and was confirmed in Madrid in 1964. His bullfighting was full of showmanship, making him very popular, despite earning him criticism from purists. He filled the bullrings of Spain, America and France. The “tickets sold out” sign was a regular sight at the bullrings where he fought.

He inaugurated the “Los Califas” Bullring in Cordoba in 1965. He had no rival in his day and his open character gained him popularity and helped to revive bullfighting. He was ranked number one in the years 1965-67-70-71. He retired unexpectedly in 1973 and reappeared a few years later in 1979 and on subsequent occasions.