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Bullfight ban in Barcelona
01:47 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Spain's Catalonia region bans bullfighting

Clashes occur between animal activists and pro-bullfighting protesters

Bullfighting is a centuries-old tradition in Spain

Catalonia is the second autonomous region in Spain to ban the sport

CNN  — 

In the sandy arena of Catalonia’s La Monumental bullring, the traditional bugle signaled the end of an era Sunday as Barcelona hosted its last bullfight.

The ornate facility from the early 1900s hosted some of Spain’s most drama-packed bullfights, but last year Catalonia’s parliament banned the heavily symbolic yet deadly sport associated with Iberian culture for centuries.

In Sunday’s final spectacle, a roaring crowd of fans watched as the matador Jose Tomas, in his traditional “suit of lights,” rang down the curtain and bade farewell.

The sold-out bullfight became a different type of show as animal-rights advocates protested outside the La Monumental, often clashing with pro-bullfighting supporters and calling the sport cruel.

Inside La Monumental, crowds swarmed the ring, pocketing handfuls of sand as souvenirs, Spain’s state-run TVE reported, while outside the arena police tried to separate pro- and anti-bullfighting activists.

“We Catalans do not want bullfighting anymore,” said a protester. “Finally, it’s over,” she said.

Bullfighting opponents also protested the fact that many bullfights are sponsored by public funds, an aberration to some during Spain’s financial crisis.

Bullfighting is an ancient sport that, according to Catalonian historians, dates to biblical times. And while it is now history in Catalonia, it is still legal in many other parts of Spain.

To some Spaniards, bullfighting is synonymous with Spanish culture, an art form immortalized in the paintings of Francisco de Goya and Edouard Manet and several authors.

American writer Ernest Hemingway was a passionate follower of the sport while living in Spain.

“Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except for bullfighters,” Hemingway wrote in “The Sun Also Rises.”

Supporters of the corridas – as bullfights are known in Spain – maintain hopes of overturning the ban on constitutional grounds.

“I think it is terrible to ban bullfighting here because it is part of our culture,” said a pro-bullfighting activist outside La Monumental.

Animal-rights advocates disagree, claiming it is a sadistic sport resulting in the torture and abuse of the bull for the purpose of public voyeurism.

Spain’s state-run TVE has stopped airing the sport, claiming it is too violent for children.

Catalonia, in northeast Spain, is the second autonomous region in the country to ban the sport. The Canary Islands in 1991 became the first in Spain to ban bullfighting.

Bullfighting also is common in neighboring Portugal.

Helena de Moura and Lola Martinez contributed to this report.