Fans turn out in force for final Barcelona bullfight
To the cries of "Freedom!" from a sold-out crowd of 18,000, the last bull to be killed in Catalonia in a bullfight before a ban on the sport comes into force hit the sand of Barcelona's Monumental arena.
"This will continue," read a large banner carried by hundreds of bullfighting fans who invaded the arena after the 570-kilo (1,250-pound) beast was slain by 28-year-old Catalan matador Serafin Marin.
The crowd then lifted all three matadors who took part in the bullfight -- Marin, Juan Mora, 48, and Jose Tomas, 36 -- on their shoulders out of the arena into the streets of the Catalan capital.
As inside the arena, the crowd continued to call out "Freedom!" outside the ring in a protest at the ban against bullfighting which will come into effect in Catalonia on January 1, 2012.
Other fans stayed behind inside the arena, taking photos to remember the last bullfight at the arena or collecting sand from the arena to keep as a souvenir.
"And you Catalan politicians are going to ban this show!" one man yelled out earlier from the stands as Tomas, who has become a bullfighting legend for his risk-taking in the ring, battled his first bull.
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 that has nothing to do with Catalonia.
Catalonia's regional parliament voted in July 2010 to ban the sport from 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. Spain's Canary Islands banned bullfighting in 1991.
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.
"This is a political law made for nationalistic motives: those that want an independent Catalonia want to cut everything that smells of Spain," said Marin, a staunch defender of bullfighting in Catalonia.
The feeling was shared by a large number of bullfighting fans who turned out for the final bullfight at the Monumental arena, which opened its doors in 1914.
"It has absolutely nothing to do with defending animals, it is a political question," said 20-year-old Alejandro de Benido, who is training to become a matador and who performed at the Monumental last week.
"It was the first time and it will certainly be the last time. I don't understand this idea to ban people from seeing bullfights."
Throughout the day bullfighting fans and curious onlookers posed for pictures outside of the Monumental arena.
"It is very important to come here today," said Juan Jose Cabedo, 48, as he posed outside the arena with two friends.
Cabedo traveled over 200 kilometres (120 miles) from Castellon in southwestern Spain to attend.
"We feel very sad and indignant," he said.
About 30 animal rights activists celebrated the end of bullfighting in the region at the entrance of the arena. A police barrier kept them away from the bullfighting fans.
They carried banners that read "Stop" in a reference to their efforts to get bullfighting banned in the rest of Spain.
"This has nothing to do with politics. I am proud that Catalonia banned bullfighting," said 44-year-old Maria Angeles Palacios who came to the arena to celebrate the ban in silence.
© 2011 AFP