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Painting the town red at La Tomatina!


27th August 2014

Emily Robertshaw

Later this morning, the small Valencian town of Buñol will literally be painted red…that’s right – it’s time for La Tomatina! An annual event held on the last Wednesday of every August, La Tomatina is without a doubt Spain’s messiest food fight, attracting huge crowds from all four corners of the globe.

Although there is still debate over the origins of the festival, the most popular theory is that it stems from a brawl between a group of young men on the last Wednesday of August 1945; whilst attending a parade in Buñol, a fight reportedly broke out, resulting in the men launching tomatoes at each other from a nearby market stall. The following year, the same group took some tomatoes from home and started a fight again in jest. Over the next few years, others continued to follow suit until it was banned in 1950. However, in 1957 the council lifted the ban and La Tomatina has been a tradition ever since.

Nowadays, there is a much bigger build-up to the tomato fight; in the week preceding the event, Buñol hosts a week-long festival – I guess it’s a good excuse for a party! If you’re lucky enough to be part of the celebrations, you’ll be witness to spectacular firework displays, parades, street parties and even paella-cooking competitions!

On the day of La Tomatina itself, thousands of people from all over the world arrive early at the town’s main square, the Plaza del Pueblo, to brace themselves for the imminent pandemonium. Festivities generally begin at around 10am with the first event, the “palo jabón”, during which several people compete against each other to climb a greasy pole and drop the coveted ham from the top. At 11am, the firing of water cannons signals the start of the tomato fight and the chaos ensues. Numerous trucks arrive, carrying a total of approximately 150,000 tomatoes from Extremadura (that’s about 40 tonnes!). For exactly one hour, participants of the battle work themselves into a frenzy as tomatoes are pelted in every direction, covering people from head to toe in a juicy red paste. Don’t worry though, it’s not as painful as it might sound; one of the rules is that the tomatoes are crushed before being thrown in order to reduce the risk of injury. Participants are also advised to wear goggles and gloves for safety (it seems that all fashion rules are thrown out the window for this event!).

la tomatina

After one hour, the end of the battle is signalled by the second firing of the water cannons. The streets are quickly cleared to prepare for the cleaning process and the town undergoes a complete revamp as fire trucks hose down the streets. Believe it or not, the ground is usually left absolutely spotless due to the acidity of the tomatoes! 


Due to the festival’s increasing popularity over the last few years (reports estimate that a whopping total of 50,000 people attended in 2012), the Town Hall of Buñol has now decided to limit the number of participants to 20,000. So for next year’s event, make sure you get your tickets early in order to avoid disappointment! For those of you who are fortunate enough to participate today, it’s time to get your glad rags on (or maybe not in this case) and get pelting!

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