Barcelona: Spain's powerful northeastern region of Catalonia bids farewell on Sunday to the country's emblematic tradition of bullfighting with a final bash at the Barcelona bullring.

The sold-out evening event at the 20,000-seat Monumental ring is the last fight scheduled this season. A regional ban on the bloody pastime takes effect January 1, 2012.

Bullfighting's popularity in Catalonia has plunged in recent decades and the Monumental is its last functioning ring.

The Catalan Parliament banned the spectacle in July 2010 following a signature-collection campaign by animal rights activists. But critics say the ban is less about animal welfare and
more a snub to Spain by independence-minded Catalans.

The move 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."

Although mostly symbolic the Monumental staged only some 15 fights a year the prohibition sent bullfighting supporters frantically looking for ways to overturn the decision or atleast make sure it doesn't spread to other regions.

Spain's leading conservative opposition Popular Party tipped to win general elections in November has appealed the ban before the Constitutional Court, while its Catalan branch
is battling for a delay in the implementation of the ban.

Meanwhile, the Mesa del Toro is seeking 500,000 signatures in the hope it can persuade the Madrid national Parliament to grant bullfighting cultural heritage status.

Animal rights activists, meanwhile, are triumphant.