The clock strikes 12. Rivers of red flow through the town. The town square is swathed in crimson fluid, as are the bodies of 40,000. A shot is fired marking the end. It’s finished for another year.
This is not, as you might suspect, the filming-location for the newest Tarantino movie. This is the Tomatina Festival, a tomato-throwing extravaganza which takes place on the last Wednesday of every August in the otherwise unremarkable town of Buñol, near Valencia in Spain.
Flickr Credit: Puuiki Beach
No one is quite sure about how the festival started, but legend has it that a group of young locals were disgruntled by their lack of inclusion in a Gigantes y Cabezudos – ‘Giants and Big Heads’ – parade. (These slightly creepy papier-mâché figures make appearances at many Spanish festivals and typically depict archetypes of the town.) Spotting a vegetable cart, the youngsters armed themselves with their chosen weapon and started lobbing tomatoes left, right, and centre. The authorities intervened, but despite their best efforts, the tomato throwing escapades still continued to be celebrated.
Subsequent years saw the stop-start of the festival; Franco banning the festival for having “no religious significance”, the Mayor forbidding the festivities as a few suits got stained. A protest staged as a funeral for La Tomatina in 1957, (cue funeral marching band, giant tomato, inside a coffin…) actually led to it becoming an official event, finally accepted, with rules and regulations. A couple of these rules include:
- Tomatoes have to be squashed before being thrown. If you’ve ever had a tomato smack you in the face, you’ll know why.
- Only tomatoes to be thrown. If you’ve ever had anything else smack you in the face, you’ll know why.
Flickr Credit: GForce
The clock strikes 11am. The palo jabón (effectively a greasy pole with a ham at the top) challenges participants to climb it, and as soon as that ham is grabbed, the fight is on. A water-cannon signifies that the battle has begun. Trucks with over 150,000 tomatoes – grown especially for the event in Extremadura – enter with the ammunition and the chaos begins. One hour of squashing, pelting, and ducking ensues. Tomato guts explode unto the cobblestoned streets. A bloodbath of tomato sauce envelops tourists, locals and “official instigators” (most sought after job in Buñol, if there ever was one).
Clothes ripe with tomato puree, and the “saucy” look you were probably not going for? Not to worry. Fire trucks come around hosing down the street and locals appear with buckets of water to wash the crowds down. Still tomato tinged? Head down to the Buñol River, where the masses flock. Returning to the town, you’ll be amazed to see the streets sparkling as the tomato acid provides the top rated cleaning product in Buñol’s annual spring clean.
Flickr Credit: SosChild
Top tips for the biggest food fight in the world
- Wear goggles; tomato acid in the eye is never fun.
- Waterproof camera – you will get pounded.
- Don’t wear flip flops, or risk losing them.
- Wear clothes you don’t care about, unless ripped and stained is your style.
- Take no prisoners, everyone should be a target.
Flickr Credit: SosChild
La Tomatina takes place on Wednesday 29th August in Buñol. Check out our Tomatina infographic.
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Category: Events & Seasonal Celebrations