La Tomatina – another year without the famous tomato festival

by Deborah Cater
La Tomatina festival in Buñol, Valencia

BUÑOL – This year on Wednesday, August 25, La Tomatina would celebrate its 76th birthday, were it not for the fact the ‘fiesta’ cannot take place for the second consecutive year due to the covid pandemic.

La Tomatina is an annual event held in the town of Buñol, 40 km west of Valencia. Every last Wednesday of August, tens of thousands of participants from around the world gather here to pelt each other with ripe tomatoes.

Tomato fight

Buñol is a generally quiet town with less than 10,000 inhabitants. However, on the last Wednesday of August, it is overrun by another tens of thousands of people, all dressed in shorts and T-shirts. Many have diving goggles or swimming goggles with them. Normally just before eleven, six large trucks drive into the packed streets, to unload their load in the middle of the street: 150,000 kilos of overripe tomatoes. A cheer goes up and at the stroke of 11 o’clock the go-ahead is given. Immediately everyone starts pelting each other with the ripe tomatoes.

Madness

There will be complete chaos, a cheerful gang with flying tomatoes and laughing and screaming people who in no time are up to their ankles in tomato pulp. Soon everything will smell a bit sour. It is a fierce battle, but the atmosphere is cheerful, elated and friendly. Children who become too much are passed over their heads to a quieter place, people who are in danger of slipping are kept on their feet.

What to wear

When no intact tomato can be found, the fighters turn to the clothing of opponents and allies. Although it is not allowed by the regulations, T-shirts are soon torn from bodies and thrown around. The more experienced participants therefore wear tight-fitting swimwear under their T-shirts.

The big clean

At 1 o’clock the end signal sounds and the battle is over. Almost immediately, the crowd will be driven out of the centre. Fire trucks are cleaning the streets, while everyone is looking for a place to wash, in the river or in the municipal swimming pool. Many private swimming pools will soon turn red. In the meantime, long tables are set up in the cleaned streets where a paella dish can be eaten a little later. The paella is prepared the night before on large wood fires by the locals.

Origin

In 1945, some young people got into a fight because they wanted to participate in a typical local procession of ‘gigantes y cabezudos’ (giants and big heads). Out of anger that they were refused, they stole tomatoes from a vegetable stall, with which they pelted the parade. Riot police arrested the youths and ordered them to pay for the damage.

cogesa expats

The following year, the young people repeated this action, this time with tomatoes brought from home. After continuing this for several years in a row, it became an unofficial tradition. Until 1950, the city council of Buñol allowed the party, but not the following year. Only in 1959 was La Tomatina officially allowed and since 1980 the municipality has even distributed the tomatoes to the increasing numbers of visitors.

International fame

What started as a local and small-scale event with a handful of young people has grown over the years into a festival for tens of thousands of participants. Within Spain, La Tomatina became known in 1983 thanks to a television report by Javier Basilio. Later, tourists also discovered this typical fiesta. In 2002, it even received the status of a Festival of National Tourist Interest (Fiesta de Interés Turístico Internacional).

Nationalities

According to the organisation, countless nationalities are represented every year. Most participants are Spanish (18.23%), but there are usually also many English (14.01%), Japanese (9.65%), Indians (8.58%), Australians (5.65%) and Americans (5.18%).

Rules

The municipality of Buñol has drawn up rules in recent years to ensure that the tomato fight goes well. Participants must adhere to this so that they can ensure a true party together.

  • You are not allowed to bring bottles or other objects that could cause accidents
  • You are not allowed to break or throw T-shirts
  • The tomatoes must first be flattened before they can be thrown. This is to ensure that no one hurts or injures each other
  • You have to watch out as soon as a truck with tomatoes drives by
  • When firing the second bang, everyone should immediately stop throwing tomatoes

Tips for the future

The municipality also gives some tips if you want to participate in La Tomatina.

  • Don’t wear slippers or high heels, but for example sneakers
  • Don’t wear clothes that you want to wear after Tomatina
  • A diving mask or swimming goggles is not a bad idea, since the t grannies can sting quite a bit if they get in your eye
  • Bring some clean and dry clothes for the return journey
  • Search for an accommodation in or near Valencia on time. There is a good connection between Valencia and Buñol, for example by train. Finding accommodation in Buñol can be very difficult
  • If you want to take pictures, bring a waterproof camera
  • Never climb into a pole, window or anything to get a better view. You will then be the target of about 40,000 people.

Enjoy!

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