Do you happen to be a big fan of tomato sauce? Well, then this crazy event is definitely something for you! La Tomatina is a festival in which participants throw over-ripe tomatoes at each other in a harmless but chaotic battle. It takes place every year on the Wednesday of the last week of August in Buñol, a small town of about 10,000 inhabitants in the Valencia region of Spain.
Each year, more than 40,000 people flock to Buñol to participate in this tomato madness. Trucks deliver tons of over-ripe tomatoes which produce true rivers of tomato juice running through the town’s streets after the battle. The participants in La Tomatina are mostly not Spanish, but come as tourists from all different continents of the world.
The tomatoes which are specifically grown for the festivities and are of inferior quality come from the Extremadura region. The estimated number of tomatoes used is around 150,000 or over 40 metric tons.
Let the Battle begin
At around 10 in the morning, the festivities start with the first of two events. In the “Palo Jabón”, participants have to climb up greasy, waxed poles in order to reach a big ham on top of the 7 meter high trunks.
As participants are fighting their way up, the crowd is singing and dancing while getting showered in water from hoses. As soon as someone is able to throw the ham off the pole, the start signal for the tomato fight is given by firing a water shot in the air. Trucks arrive with the tomatoes in the Plaza del Pueblo, the center of La Tomatina, and the chaos begins.
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Exactly after one hour the fight ends with the second shot of water. After this, throwing tomatoes is not allowed anymore which is seen as a code of honor. The entire town square is now full of tomatoes and fire trucks start to hose down the streets with the help of the visitors. Locals provide additional hoses and help participants get rid of the jammed fruits.
The festival does not only provide fun for the visitors but also has a nice side effect for the town itself. Due to the acidity of the tomatoes, Buñol’s cobblestone streets end up being clean and shiny after removing the tomato juice.
Rules and Recommendations for La Tomatina
In order to keep La Tomatina a fun event without any severe injuries, there are certain regulations and suggestions on how to participate in the tomato battle:
- Do not throw bottles or other objects that could cause damage or accidents. You can only throw tomatoes.
- Do not destroy the shirts of other participants.
- The tomatoes must be crushed in the hand before throwing them so that nobody gets hurt.
- Pay attention to the tomato-carrying trucks passing the participants
- The firing of the second water shot determines the end of the battle. Throwing tomatoes is not allowed after this anymore.
- The use of goggles and gloves is recommended.
How it all began
La Tomatina evolved from a completely random incident in 1945. A few young people were on the way to the town square to attend the Giants and Big Heads figures parade on the last Wednesday in August. The boys were dancing and celebrating their good mood with lots of energy. As they were marching alongside one of the floats, their joy got a little out of control, however, causing one of the parade’s participants fall off the float. The person completely lost his temper and started hitting everything in his path. Soon the entire crowd got furious and raided a close grocery stall, throwing tomatoes at each other until the local police ended the battle.
The following year, the young people came back on the last Wednesday of August to start another quarrel. Only this time, they brought their own tomatoes from home. Again, the local authorities stopped the event and took vigorous action. The subsequent years experienced a lot of back and forth with penalties and imprisonments.
For several years during the 1950s, the evolved tradition was prohibited. Despite this, the event gained more and more popularity among the citizens of Buñol. This summited in ‘the tomato’s funeral’, an event with musicians, singers and comedians in which participants carried around a big tomato in a coffin while a band was playing funeral marches. Due to all the buzz around the festival and the support of the local community, the authorities finally agreed to make La Tomatina an official event in 1957.
The next La Tomatina 2019 will take place on Wednesday, 28th August 2019.
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Go to other interesting issues on Spain: Food & Drinks