BARCELONA, Spain — Matadors drove the killing sword into bulls for the last time Sunday in Spain's northeastern region of Catalonia in a farewell fight before a regional ban on the country's emotive tradition takes effect.
Three of Spain's top bullfighters, including No. 1 Jose Tomas, starred in the sold-out show at Barcelona's 20,000-seat Monumental ring. Catalan bullfighter Serafin Marin closed the fight, killing the last of six bulls to great applause. Many fans then invaded the ring to grab handfuls of sand for souvenirs.
The bullfighters were later carried shoulder high from the ring into the streets outside the bullring while the crowd chanted slogans in favor of freedom and against the prohibition. A brief bout of scuffling broke out as fans confronted about 20 animal welfare activists, but there were no reports of injuries or arrests.
The fight was also preceded by moments of tension as pro- and anti-bullfighting activists exchanged insults.
Catalonia's Parliament banned bullfighting in July 2010 after a signature-collection campaign by animal rights activists. The ban does not take effect until Jan. 1, but Sunday's fight was the last of this season.
Critics say the prohibition is less about animal welfare and more a snub to Spain by independence-minded Catalans.
Bullfighting's popularity in Catalonia has plunged recently and the Monumental was its last functioning ring, although the city once boasted three.
Hours before the fight, a small group of anti-bullfight activists gathered outside the arena, celebrating with sparkling wine.
"Obviously a lot of political parties have tried to politicize this, but we mustn't forget that this popular proposal sprouted from a pure pro-animal rights standpoint aimed at eradicating animal cruelty," campaigner Soraya Gaston said. Others hoped the prohibition might only be temporary.
"It looks like this may be the last day. But the last word hasn't been said yet," fan Eduardo Edurna said. "I think we will have bullfighting back in Catalonia." The prohibition has caused a furor and triggered a nationwide debate.