The sold-out crowd of 18,000 applauded and chanted ‘‘Freedom!’’ throughout the bullfight at Barcelona’s Monumental arena, the city’s last active bullring, which opened its doors in 1914.
After the last bull was killed by Serafin Marin, a 28-year-old Catalan who is a fierce defender of the tradition, the crowd carried all three matadors on their shoulders out of the arena to the applause of onlookers.
‘‘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 on Sunday.
Catalonia’s regional parliament voted in July 2010 to ban bullfighting from January 1, 2012 after animal rights groups managed to garner 180,000 signatures for a petition demanding the debate.
It was the first region in mainland Spain to ban the tradition. While the move fuelled the debate across the country over bullfighting, there is little sign that any other Spanish region is poised to follow Catalonia’s example.
Spain’s Canary Islands banned bullfighting in 1991.
Marin and other critics say the move was as much about Catalonia, which has its own language and where many seek independence from Spain, underlining its regional identity as an issue of animal rights.
They point out that other festivals, including one in which flaming torches are attached to the horns of a bull, which is then pursued through the streets, will survive the new regime.
Marin, who wore a cape that featured the colours of the Catalan flag in the ring, said he would continue to take part in bullfights in other parts of Spain and in France.
‘‘I feel bad about it, sad. They take away all your past and part of your future. I have been banned from carrying out my profession,’’ he said before the bullfight.
Tickets for the final bullfight at the Monumental arena cost between €24 ($33) and €135 but scalpers were offering them at six times the cost outside the arena before the start of the bullfight.
The first matador to enter the arena was 38-year-old Juan Mora, who wore a green and gold suit, followed by the legendary 36-year-old Jose Tomas, who wore a black suit in a sign of protest against the end of bullfighting in Catalonia.
Marin was the last to perform, to grant him his wish of going down in history as the matador who killed the last bull at the Monumental arena.
‘‘We have won a battle but not the war. We will continue to work for animal rights in Spain, Catalonia and elsewhere,’’ said Helena Escoda, member of the rights group Prou, Catalan for ‘‘enough’’, which fought for the ban.
The bullfight has a long tradition in Catalonia, going back to the 16th century, but as in the rest of Spain interest in the sport is falling.
Barcelona, Spain’s second-largest city, had three bullrings at one point. But the Monumental, the city’s last active arena, hosted just 18 bullfights last year.
In a 2008 survey, only 22.5 per cent of Catalans questioned said they were interested in the tradition.
While bullfighting is carried out across the country, its staunchest supporters can be found in Madrid and in the southern region of Andalusia, the heartland of the sport.
Bullfighting fans in Catalonia have not given up hope: they aim 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 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.