La Tomatina is the world’s biggest food fight event held in the Valencian town of Buñol (pronounced Bunyol). It is a yearly event that takes place on the last Wednesday of August. La Tomatina consists of thousands of people hurling over 115,00 kilograms of ripe tomatoes at one another for an hour.
It is unknown how La Tomatina originally started but there are several theories:
- It is said that it all started when a group of young people in the town went to see a parade honoring the town’s patron saint, San Luis Betrán. During the parade, they got bored and knocked off the headpiece of a costumed performer and a fight ensued, with the crowd grabbing tomatoes from a nearby fruit stand and hurling them at one another until the police intervened. The following year, the same group of young people repeated the event, but this time they brought their own tomatoes from home. This was the beginning of what is now a world-famous festival.
- It all began as a way for locals to celebrate the end of the tomato harvest.
- It is also said that it was a way for young people to protest against the government or a political figure.
The tradition has continued since 1945, with the festival becoming increasingly popular, attracting thousands of tourists including from Japan and Australia. La Tomatina was officially declared a Festival of International Tourist Interest in 2002.
La Tomatina was banned in the early 1950s by Francisco Franco due to the festival’s lack of religious importance. However, this did not stop the participants who were arrested. The people protested the prohibition and the festival was again allowed with more participants until it was canceled again in 1957. The townspeople of Buñol held a ceremonial tomato burial to express their discontent. A large tomato was ‘laid to rest’ in a coffin and citizens carried it through the streets in a funeral procession. The parade was accompanied by a music band that played funeral marches. Fortunately, the protest was successful, and the La Tomatina festival was finally permitted and became an official festival.
Events during the days before the fight include a paella contest, fireworks, sangria parties, and different music bands and parades in the streets around the medieval city center.
Noche de la Empalmá:
The preparations begin the night before, called the night of the “empalmá“, a term that alludes to partying until dawn without going to bed and going directly to the expected tomato fight without going home.
On Wednesday morning, at 10 A.M, the first event before the tomato battle is the “Palo Jabón”, where ham is hoisted to the top of a pole slicked with soap. The goal is for participants to climb up the pole as best as they can and make the ham drop. Once it falls, the tomato battle begins. For the next hour, the participants scoop up as many tomatoes as possible and hurl them at their festivalgoers.
When the event ends, the tomato-soaked crowds queue up to shower off. Firefighters come in to hose down the streets and in less than an hour things are back to normal. The party continues throughout the afternoon, with live music, dancing, and sangria being served in plazas around the town.
Where do all those tomatoes come from?
Surprisingly, tomatoes aren’t grown in Buñol. They come from Extremadura, where they are less expensive but they are also trucked in from all over Spain.
What should you wear during a La Tomatina festival?
If you plan to participate in this event, you will get dirty. You must also remember that whatever you wear on the day is almost certain to be thrown away. Also, keep in mind that it is usually hot during August so make sure to bring summer clothes. Here are some tips on what to wear to protect yourself:
- Wear old clothes that you are willing to throw out. There is a possibility your clothes will rip or get lost in the crowd.
- Wear slip-resistant shoes or closed-toed shoes with a grip for the most comfort. Wear old worn-out shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty and that you are willing to throw out.
- Wear a bathing suit underneath. Some festivalgoers will rip the clothes of others, so be sure to have something on underneath.
- Wear goggles to protect your eyes from tomato acidity. The acid in the tomato stings the eyes a lot, but it cleanses the skin.
- If you want to take photos, use a waterproof and drop-resistant camera, or equip it with a protective case.
What are the rules for La Tomatina?
- Do not throw anything but tomatoes.
- Do not enter with bottles or hard objects; you can cause accidents and damage to others.
- Do not tear clothes or throw shirts, neither yours nor those of others.
- Squash tomatoes before throwing them to avoid hurting others.
- Stop throwing tomatoes after the second starter pistol shot.
- Follow the instructions from the security staff.
- Only throw tomatoes at targets you can see, to avoid hurting others.
- Do not throw tomatoes directly at buildings.
- Keep a safe distance from the trucks.
- Most importantly, have a great time!