Updated: November 11, 2011 2:00PM
BARCELONA, Spain — Matadors drove the killing sword into bulls for the last time Sunday in Spain’s powerful northeastern region of Catalonia before a regional ban on the country’s emblematic tradition takes effect.
Three of Spain’s top bullfighters 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.
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.
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 only be 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.”
But modern times and the economic crisis have nevertheless hit the tradition hard and surveys consistently show most Spaniards have no interest in bullfighting.
In an article headlined “The Fiesta is Ending,” leading newspaper El Pais highlighted that changing tastes and economic difficulties, particularly in small towns, have led to a 34 percent drop in the number of bull-related festival events from 2,622 to 1,724 between 2007 and 2010.
In January, Spain’s leading broadcaster said it would no longer show live bullfights in order to protect children from viewing violence.