When, where and how exactly did the tomato-throwing festival in Bunol begin? Well, as it turns out, the festival’s foundations are a little vague. Like many festivals in Spain, the celebration was initially for religious reasons, to honour Bunol’s patron saint, San Luis Bertran.
In the festival in 1945, there was a skirmish during a procession and some boys threw tomatoes. A few say that this action came about because of rivalries between villagers. Others say it stemmed from dissatisfaction with Spanish dictator’s Francisco Franco’s reign in the period after the Spanish civil war.
One Spanish historian said that Brunol was against Franco and so throwing tomatoes at the priest and mayor was a way to protest against the authority.
Another Theory about La Tomatina’s Origins…
Though all this stands in contrast to the history Wikipedia gives. Wikipedia says the most popular theory is that La Tomatina started in 1945 during a parade of ‘Little Rabbit,’ where people threw tomatoes at some woodland creatures eating the watermelons, one missed and it hit a person, and then a tomato fight broke out. The next year, some youths repeated the fight in the same Wednesday in August, but this time they brought they own tomatoes. After subsequent years of the tomato-throwing, a tradition was born.
La Tomatina Endures the Test of Time
Though La Tomatina was banned several times in the 1950s, the tradition survived and was adopted as the main event for the town’s two week celebration. As one local said, the residents of Bunol have a lot of respect for the patron saint, but it’s La Tomatina that attracts people.
Expensive Foreign Tomatoes
Funnily enough, the tomatoes used in La Tomatina aren’t locally grown in Bunol. They come from the Spanish province of Extremadura, more than 800km away. In decades past, festival-goers used to haul their own tomatoes to the tomato square to throw. But as the festival grew, there weren’t enough tomatoes to go around. So a local group started buying them in bulk in 1972, and then eventually the town’s government took responsibility for this expense in 1986. Bunol grows tomatoes, just not in the volume required (on average one metric tonne), so the Bunol government sources it where it’s cheapest. This year’s tomatoes will cost 2.3 million pesetas, or AUS $19,641.
La Tomatina in the Present
Despite all this history, at the noontime start to this year’s tomato fight, nobody cares how La Tomatina initially started or where the tomatoes come from. Shopkeepers and homeowners who live on operate on the square and along the main street mostly care about protecting their property from the pulpy projectiles. They will spend their mornings boarding up their properties and covering the front with thick sheets of plastic.