On Wednesday, August 27th, over 20,000 revelers literally painted the tiny town of Bunol red, by pelting each other with thousands of pounds of tomatoes. This was of course no ordinary food fight, but the world's largest one that is staged annually on the last Wednesday of August - Welcome to Spain's messy La Tomatina festival!
The revered tradition that transforms the sleepy town of 10,000 into a bustling metropolis for a week can be traced all the way back to 1944. According to one popular local folklore, it all began when some teenagers decided to disrupt a parade they were barred from, by pelting everyone participating with the first produce they could get their hands on. Fortunately, it was tomatoes! Others believe that it was started when some disgruntled residents pelted a city official with tomatoes during a town celebration. No matter what the origin, it was so much fun that despite several attempts to ban it, locals returned to reenact the food fight each year, on the last Wednesday of August. In 1957, town officials finally succumbed and 'La Tomatina' became an official festival, complete with rules and regulations.
The festival remained a well-kept secret until the 1980's, when word of this fun food fight started to proliferate, attracting thrill seekers from all over the world. To accommodate the ever-increasing crowd, the townsfolk decided to extend this hour-long tomato throwing event into a week long fiesta that includes colorful parades, dancing and even fireworks. On the night prior to the tomato fight, the streets of Bunol are lined up with vendors preparing giant pans of delicious tomato Paella on wood-burning fires. Tourists and locals alike, gather to enjoy the good food and drinks, until the wee hours of the morning.
Today, La Tomatina is one of Spain's most popular and anticipated festivals, second only to the world famous 'Running of the Bulls' in Pamplona. However, after an unprecedented crowd of about 50,000 descended upon the Bunol in 2012, officials decided it was getting too dangerous. Since 2013, they have restricted the number of people allowed to attend the festival to 20,000 and also imposed a fee of 10 Euros ($13 USD) to help cover the festival costs.
On the day of the big event, area businessmen scramble to cover their storefronts with tarps. At 10 a.m., participants flock to the town's Plaza Mayor for the opening ceremony, which entails cheering a volunteer as he/she tries to climb up a two-story greased pole to pluck the Spanish ham that lies atop. While the rules state that the pelting can only begin once he/she succeeds, the easygoing officials treat any valiant attempt as the signal to sound the siren to get the party started. Almost magically, volunteers aboard five trucks carrying about 120 tons of tomatoes offload their wares into the hands of the eagerly awaiting food fighters, so that the friendly pelting can begin. By the end of the hour-long event, everyone is tired and . . . covered in tomato mush!
After cleaning up using the temporary hose showers set up by Bunol residents or by taking a refreshing dip in the nearby Bunol River, revelers enjoy a scrumptious Spanish lunch and then retire, for a well-deserved siesta!
Resources: latomatinatours.com,news.nationalpost.com, wikipedia.org