Thousands of animal rights activists have protested in Madrid to demand an end to Spain’s long tradition of bullfighting.

The march went through the Spanish capital’s city centre on Saturday, with several groups united under one message: “Bullfighting is violence and you can stop it.”

Animal rights activists say the gory fights are among the world’s most blatant forms of animal cruelty, with bulls lanced and finally stabbed through the heart.

Animal rights activists want an end to bullfighting
Animal rights activists want an end to bullfighting (Paul White/AP)

Matadors are praised for killing with a single stab, though some do not succeed in finishing off the animal with repeated thrusts.

The march, scheduled during the famed San Isidro week-long fair featuring numerous bullfights in Madrid’s famous Las Ventas bullring, is part of a growing divide between those who see bullfighting as animal cruelty and others who defend it as part of Spain’s traditional culture.

Protesters also demanded a change in legislation under which animal cruelty would be subject to Spain’s criminal code.

Protesters march through Madrid
Protesters march through Madrid (Paul White/AP)

Spokeswoman Laura Gonzalo called for an immediate halt to all bullfights.

“It’s time for all of society to unite and say ‘enough’,” she said, while questioning the motive behind recent government tax cuts for bullfighting events.

Spain’s deep tradition of bullfights was named part of the country’s cultural heritage in a law passed in 2013.

Madrid’s mayor Manuela Carmena has not banned bullfighting events but she has eliminated annual subsidies for their promotion.