Let’s begin with some history of the La Tomatina festival. Spanish people LOVE eating tomatoes and it’s estimated that each person eats around 17 kilos annually! Similar to most Mediterranean cuisines, the humble tomato is a very important ingredient in Spanish cooking. Tomatoes are eaten every day in Spain, and they’re prepared in many different ways including crushed, fresh, simmered in a sauce, or stewed. You’ll find tomato sauce on most Spanish dinner tables, served on the side of dishes like chicken, fried eggs, omelettes and meat.
One of the principal tomato-growing areas of Spain is in the southeast, including Valencia and Murcia, so it seems right that the La Tomatina festival should take place in Bunol which is just west of the capital city of Valencia.
There are many thoughts on how and why the La Tomatina festival started, but it seems that there was a parade during a festival in Bunol, held on the last Wednesday of August in 1945, when an argument started between some young men. In their anger they took advantage of a nearby fruit and vegetable stall and started throwing tomatoes at each other. The police broke up the altercation and the men responsible had to pay restitution to the vendor. It seems that the young people had so much fun that they planned to do the whole thing again the following year, so they came and brought tomatoes with them to the parade and started another tomato fight.
This occurred every year, up until the 1950s, when the Town Council put a stop to it. Still some people persisted on having their tomato fight, and were ultimately thrown in jail. Then came the protests and even a ‘Tomato Funeral.’ Finally, in 1957 the Town Council agreed to let the fight continue, and since 1980 the City Government has really become involved and, in fact, has been the provider of the tomatoes!
Today’s La Tomatina
The celebration still continues: taking place in the city centre of Bunol on the last Wednesday in August. The festivities begin at 11 AM at the sound of a rocket being fired, ending one hour later. Last year it was expected that 40,000 people participated in the tomato throwing fest, and this year they expect even higher numbers.
The ‘Fight’ Rules
On the official La Tomatina website there are five very simple rules that must be obeyed. Basically they’re just common sense rules to ensure that all participants stay safe. According to the website they’re simple rules of cohabitation and civic responsibility. So, here are the five official rules –
- No bottles or other objects that might cause harm or an accident;
- No tearing or throwing of T-shirts;
- To avoid causing injury the tomatoes should be squashed first and then thrown;
- Be cautious and aware of trucks and vans; and
- At the sound of the second shot the tomato throwing must stop!