BARCELONA (AP) — Matadors drove the killing sword into bulls for the last time Sunday in Spain’s powerful northeastern region of Catalonia in an emotive farewell fight before a polemical regional ban on the country’s emblematic 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 by killing the last of six bulls to great applause.
Many fans then invaded the ring to grab handfuls of sand to keep as souvenirs. The fight was preceded by moments of tension as pro- and anti-bullfighting activists exchanged insults outside the city’s arena.
Catalonia’s Parliament banned bullfighting in July 2010 following a signature-collection campaign by animal rights activists. The ban does not take effect until Jan. 1, but Sunday’s fight was the last scheduled 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 in recent decades, 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 be only temporary.
“It looks like this may be the last day (of bullfights in Catalonia), but the last word hasn’t been said yet,” fan Eduardo Edurna said. “I think we will have bullfighting back in Catalonia.”
The prohibition caused a furor and triggered a nationwide debate over the centuries-old spectacle that inspired such artists and writers as Goya, Picasso and Hemingway.
“Banning bullfighting in Catalonia is nothing more than an attack on liberty,” said Carlos Nunez, president of Spain’s Mesa del Toro pro-bullfighting umbrella group. “It’s the fruit of policies in Catalonia against bullfighting and all that is seen to represent Spain.”
Although mostly symbolic — the Monumental staged only some 15 fights a year — the prohibition sent bullfighting supporters frantically looking for ways to overturn the decision or at least make sure it doesn’t spread to other regions.
Spain’s leading conservative opposition Popular Party — tipped to win general elections in November — has appealed the ban before the Constitutional Court, while its Catalan branch is battling for a delay in the implementation of the ban.
Meanwhile, the Mesa del Toro is seeking 500,000 signatures in the hope it can persuade the Madrid national Parliament to grant bullfighting cultural heritage status.