La Tomatina is a festival unlike any other. It culminates when – for a couple of crazy hours – the small town of Bunyol (near Valencia) becomes a battleground for the world’s biggest food fight. Tens of thousands of people gleefully hurl ripe tomatoes at each other, every year on the last Wednesday of August, turning the city into a crimson sea.
The first Tomatina took place in 1945, but the true story of how it started is still disputed. Some say it began between a group of friends fooling around, others claim it was started at an anti-Franco rally. The most widely accepted theory is that brawling youngsters at a parade raided a nearby vegetable stall, and began throwing tomatoes until the police came to break it all up.
As the story goes, the same kids returned the following year on the same last Wednesday of August, to have another fight with their own tomatoes. This time, others joined in. Again, the police came to stop the food fight – but they were too late. It had already become a ludicrous tradition that would be repeated every year, eventually growing to mammoth proportions.
We may not know how the Tomatina started, but the crowds who take part don’t need an excuse to have a wonderful time throwing tomatoes at anything that moves. The actual tomato throwing only lasts about two hours, but the day is full of fun. It all starts in the morning as the town square fills with people – lots of people. Bunyol is a tiny town of 9000 people, but swells to 40,000 for the Tomatina.
The, just before the battle, a pole is erected and covered with soap. A leg of cured Iberian ham is raised as a flag, and the first one who can climb to the top wins the tasty prize. Finally, at 11 o’clock, a shot is fired, and a truckload of “ammunition” appears. The first tomatoes are thrown by the truck drivers, but the crowd rushes forward when the vehicle stops. Within a few seconds, everything is red. Truck after truck appears, unloading a total of 40 tons of overripe tomatoes. Not to worry – they are low-grade tomatoes that wouldn’t be used for food.
When the tomatoes have been thrown, a shot is fired, signaling the end of the battle. Now come the fire trucks to hose down the streets and other local volunteers who help hose down the participants. Oddly, the city is completely clean after the Tomatina, due to the acidity of the tomatoes. Stained and happy, everyone moves on to continue the celebration in a more civilized way in the local bars and restaurants.
Getting in on the fun
Due to its popularity, the city of Bunyol has begun controlling the numbers of participants in the Tomatina by selling tickets. Ask us about including the Tomatina in your tour of the Valencia region next year!
© Photos from La Tomatina Festival