Fans and opponents of bullfighting crowded into Barcelona on Sunday for the last corrida to be held in the city's La Monumental arena following a ban on the traditional Spanish spectacle in Catalonia.
All 20,000 seats in the historic bull ring had sold out weeks in advance for the contest in which Spain's top matador, Jose Tomas, and two others will put to death six bulls.
Touts were charging 1,600 euros for tickets, three times the face value of the top price seats closest to the sand.
Crowds filled bars outside La Monumental before the 6 p.m start, many dressed as if going to a formal dinner party. Fans -- a number of whom had come from abroad -- lamented the ban, saying it was stifling tradition and stamping on society's rights.
This is like a dictatorship. We don't do anything wrong to anyone and we are banned from having a 300 year-old show. And in Barcelona, where there used to be three bullfighting arenas, Josep Navarro, 60, a longtime fan, told Reuters.
But opponents of the bullfight celebrated their victory in getting the traditional spectacle banned in Catalonia and said they would continue to campaign for other regions to follow.
Many protested outside the arena, or Plaza de Toros, carrying posters reading RIP in blood-red lettering and blowing whistles under the watchful eyes of squads of police.
It is a small victory, but the thought of having it in the rest of Spain and still having Correbous here does not make me happy. I am here because six animals are going to be tortured here today, said an anti-bullfighting activist who gave his name as Luis.
The correbous are local Catalan festivals in which bulls have fire brands tied to their horns but are not killed.
The law banning bullfighting in autonomous Catalonia was passed by the regional parliament in July last year after a citizens' petition.
Though driven by animal rights activists, many commentators saw it as part of Catalonia's desire to distance itself from culture rooted elsewhere in Spain.
The spectacle is seen by fans as an art, and has inspired artists such as painters Goya and Picasso and poet Federico Garcia Lorca. But critics say the event, in which three matadors in turn face six half-ton bulls in a ritual which ends with the animal being killed by a sword thrust, amounts to torture and has no place in a modern society.
Its popularity is dwindling in Spain, although it retains loyal followings in Anadalusia, Madrid, the Basque country and some other parts of the country as well as southwest France. But fights are increasingly poorly attended and Spain's economic problems have also hit the industry.
Still, Jose Tomas, considered one of the great matadors of all ages, was estimated to be paid 350,000 euros for Sunday's event. Known for his courage, he has only recently returned to the ring after a goring in Mexico in April last year nearly killed him.
HOMAGE FROM CATALAN
The last matador to face a bull on Sunday's corrida will be a Catalan, Serafin Marin.
A stoical but solemn-faced Marin spoke to Reuters in his hotel room on Sunday afternoon, surrounded by an entourage of assistants who hoisted him into his skin-tight suit of lights.
I am responsible for this evening. I hope everything turns out great, that nothing happens, that everybody is happy, that they carry me out of the arena. And after that let God decide. Let's hope we can have bullfighting in Barcelona in 2012, he said.
Even the artistic event posters advertising the swansong to Catalan bullfighting have caused a stir. Most of the 1,500 on Barcelona's walls have been filched as mementos..
The law comes into effect in January 2012 but Sunday is Barcelona's official farewell as it is the end of the season.
Even though this weekend's two-day event -- top matador El Juli and two others were carried out of La Monumental on the shoulders of the crowd after Saturday night's fight -- ticket sales in Barcelona this year have not usually half-filled the arena.
The Catalonian Bullfighting Federation collected signatures for a petition against the ban.
I think fans have mixed feelings. On the one hand they feel sorry, angry and powerless, but at the same time it feels unreal, like when you suddenly lose somebody you love and it feels unreal for days, David Guillen, spokesman for the Catalan Bullfighting Federation, told Reuters.
The opposition Popular Party is also in the process of appealing against the ban on the grounds it is unconstitutional.