Feisty Festivals: La Tomatina

Travel writer Virginia Morell explains Spain’s biggest food fight: La Tomatina

At 30 kilometres from the gorgeous city of Valencia and the Mediterranean Sea, one of the strangest traditions you’ll ever encounter takes place: la Tomatina. This is a festival held in the Valencian town of Buñol in which participants throw tomatoes to each other. The party starts early in the morning when strong men are encouraged to climb a slippery pole dipped in soap, at the top of it there is a ham. Once someone gets the prize a shot is heard and the actual tomato fight begins. After an hour another shot indicates that la Tomatina is over.

This strange tomato fight has been taking place in the village of Buñol since the mid 1940s. Apparently, during the local feasts of 1944, a group of young men were very keen to participate in the gigantes y cabezudos parade (a traditional Spanish festival where people dance disguise as giants by wearing papier maché heads). Since they were not allowed to join, however, they threw tomatoes from a vegetable store at those who were taking part in the parade. This resulted in a great vegetable fight all over the village that had to be stopped by the police.

The next year, the same group of young men voluntarily repeated the brawl with tomatoes taken beforehand from their place, once more the police cut it off. This tomato fight was repeated during the following years although the local council did not approve of it. Finally, la Tomatina was accepted as an official local feast on 1959 and since then it has been held during the local festivities.

La Tomatina became popular in the rest of Spain in 1983 after a documentary was broadcasted in TVE. Since then, thousands of people from different parts of Spain and the globe go to Buñol in order to take part of this unusual fight where vegetables are used as weapons. In fact, 40,000 people participate each year in the brawl! This is the maximum capacity the village can hold and this last year over 4000 people were turned away.

For this big-scale fight over 120.000 kilograms of tomatoes are required which are delivered to the participants from trucks. Nevertheless, there are five golden rules in this chaotic tradition in order to avoid accidents and injuries:
1. No dangerous objects can be introduced into the fighting area.
2. T-shirts cannot be ripped.
3. Tomatoes must be squashed before throwing them.
4. A security distance must be kept with the trucks.
5. Once the second shot is heard no more tomatoes can be thrown.

In other towns around Valencia there are similar traditions that consist of throwing groceries. In the town of Líria takes place a meringue fight called La Merenguina; in Ibi Els Enfarinats is held where people throw eggs and flour; and finally, in Alaquàs we find a water brawl named La Festa de L’aigua. All these festivals are an essential event in the local festivities, which demonstrate the agricultural tradition of the Valencian region. So, two things are certain about Spain: people know how to fight but also how to party hard!



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