Matadors in Barcelona have killed six half-tonne bulls in the last bullfight to be held in Catalonia before a ban on the centuries-old tradition goes into effect in the northeastern Spanish region.
A sold-out crowd of 18,000 applauded and chanted "Freedom!" throughout the bullfight at Barcelona's Monumental Arena on Sunday. The arena is the last of its kind still active in the region, and was originally built in 1914.
Catalan politicians voted for the ban, which goes into effect on January 1, after 180,000 people signed a petition to outlaw the tradition.
The ban is a relief to animal rights activists, but supporters of bullfighting say they will challenge it in Spain's top court.
After the final bull was killed by Serafin Marin, a 28-year-old Catalan who is a fierce proponent of the practice, the crowd carried all three matadors - Marin, Juan Mora, 48, and Jose Tomas, 36 - involved in the day's proceedings on their shoulders out of the arena, to the applause of onlookers.
'Taking away the past'
"God willing, I will have the sad honour of killing the final bull," Marin said before the performance began, adding that it was very important for him to be in the ring for the last fight before the ban.
"I feel bad about it, sad. They take away all your past and part of your future," he said.
Though the bullfight goes back to the 16th century in Catalonia, it is losing interest there as in the rest of Spain.
Marin wore a cape with the yellow and red colours of the Catalan flag as he entered the ring, a gesture seen as a rebuke to those that argue that bullfighting is a Spanish tradition, not a Catalan one.
Elena Allue, an animal rights campaigner, told Al Jazeera: "In the 21st century there is no space for bullfighting, it's primitive."
Fans at the final bullfight, however, were not convinced.
"For a city like Barcelona to close this arena is like throwing a Picasso painting into the garbage," said 68-year-old Cristobal, who declined to give his last name, before taking his seat at the Monumental for the bullfight.
In a 2008 survey, only 22.5 per cent of Catalans questioned said they were interested in the tradition.
"The fans see this decision to ban bullfighting [as] less to do with animal rights but more to do with the local political agenda," Al Jazeera's Sonia Gallego, reporting from Barcelona, said.
Fans of the bullfight have not given up hope. They hope to find 500,000 backers to present their own petition to the national parliament and classify the combat as a cultural asset.
If they can do so by the end of this year, bullfighting fans believe they can stop the ban from taking effect.
"At the moment the gathering of signatures is going more slowly that we like," admitted Carlos Nunez, head of the fighting-bull breeders' union.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies