La Tomatina, the world’s biggest tomato food fight is an authentic Spanish celebration and perhaps the craziest fiesta in Spain. It takes place on the last Wednesday of August each year in the small town of Buñol, near Valencia. This year it takes place on Wednesday 31st August when thousands of people will arrive from all over the world to throw tomatoes at each other in the streets. The festival lasts for one week during which there is music, dancing, street parades, fireworks and paella-making competitions.
Up to 40,000 people are expected to come to the tomato fight along with over 100 metric tonnes of tomatoes. At 10 a.m. the festival begins as truckloads of tomatoes are brought into the main square, la Plaza del Pueblo. In theory the festival is not supposed to start until someone has climbed a 15 foot greased wooden pole to reach the ham at the top, however, people start the food fight as soon as the water cannons start firing. Tomatoes are launched in all directions and within seconds everyone is covered in tomato skins and juice.
Shopkeepers protect their shop fronts from the tomatoes by covering them with huge plastic sheets plastic. Participants are advised to wear protective goggles and gloves. They are told to squash the tomatoes before throwing them for safety reasons. No-one is allowed to bring anything into the food fight that may cause a fight to break out, such as a glass bottle. Despite being forbidden to rip other people’s clothes, this rule is generally ignored.
The fight lasts for one hour and the end is signalled by the firing of the water cannons after which you cannot throw any more tomatoes. Afterwards, the streets are sprayed down by the local fire brigade and people wash in the river or are hosed down by kind locals. Due to the acidity of the tomatoes, the ground is clean once the remains of the tomatoes have been washed away.
The tomato fight became a traditional festival around 1944. It is in honour of the patron saint’s Luis Bertran and the Mare de Deu dels Desemparats (a title for the Virgin Mary).
No one is exactly sure of how the tradition started but rumours include that it originated from a food fight amongst locals, a juvenile class war, an unimpressed crowd watching a parade, a practical joke on a bad musician and the result of a lorry spillage. One popular theory is that locals attacked city councillors with tomatoes during a town celebration. Whichever rumour is true, it was enjoyed so much that it was repeated year after year. It was banned under Franco’s rule since it had no religious significance but returned after Franco’s death in 1975.
As Buñol is a small town with only 9,000 inhabitants, most people stay in Valencia and arrive in Buñol on the local train. Alternatively, you can book a tour including hotel, transport to Buñol and tour guide with tour operators PP Travel in London.