Of course no one would ever say Spain is short of weird and crazy festivals; especially those who have witnessed the pyrotechnics of Las Fallas or the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. And La Tomatina in Bunol is right up there with the weirdest!
La Tomatina is essentially a huge food fight where the weapons of choice are 150,000 big fat tomatoes. Each year La Tomatina is held on the last Wednesday of August and thousands of revellers travel from all regions of Spain and beyond, cramming into the humble little village of Bunol, just for the opportunity of taking part in this rather strange event.
The Food Fight Gets Started
Despite the fact that La Tomatina is known worldwide, the festival is actually a short-lived but very messy and crowded affair. It starts at 11 am when someone places a ham at the top of a large greasy pole in the centre of the Town Square. The tomato fight can only begin when someone fit and athletic enough can climb up the pole and claim their prize. Of course the whole scene is mayhem as agile Spanish citizens scramble all over each other in an attempt to claim the jamón.
Here Come The Tomatoes!
Once this task has been achieved, trucks full of tomatoes arrive and drop their load of fruit onto the ground: the crowds go crazy trying to get to the tomatoes to squash and hurl them at other people in their clean white shirts. Apparently it’s tradition to wear white so there’s the perfect contrast of before-and-after effects. And still the lorries continue their trek, up the packed Bunol streets; causing the already-squashed crowds to squash even closer together to allow the trucks to pass by as they continue dropping more and more juicy tomatoes on their way. Daring visitors sit on top of the lorries hurling tomato after tomato into the crowds. Of course, the whole thing sounds incredibly silly which is why this event is so much fun. However, if you’re at all claustrophobic this festival is definitely not for you!
When the trucks have emptied their loads and all the tomatoes have been squashed, thrown, re-thrown, and then thrown again, the crowds slowly disperse, stinking of tomato, with bits and pieces of fruity flesh and seeds sticking in their hair. Thankfully, the lovely citizens of Bunol are there to hose down the smelly revellers, and the weird and wonderful tomato fight is over once again. Note: remember to bring a change of clothes!
The History of La Tomatina
There are many thoughts on how and why La Tomatina might have started, but we do know this tomato fight tradition has been taking place in Bunol since around 1944. The festival was banned during the Franco years because it had no religious significance but it re-emerged in the 1970s. Some of the theories on why this fight began include a friendly war between upper class pijos from Madrid and bare-footed Trotskyist macarras on summer holidays; a food fight among friends; a carnival parade where bystanders threw tomatoes; taunting a bad musician; the aftermath of an accidental truck spillage; and a democratic protest against local city council.
Regardless of why this festival started, the people of Bunol obviously thought it was a fabulous idea and eagerly re-invoked the tradition the next year. Today you’ll see between 20,000 and 50,000 people arrive in Bunol from all around the globe, all excited about getting pelted with tomatoes!