About This Festival
Who cast that first fateful tomato that started the La Tomatina revolution? The reality is no one knows. According to the most popular version of the story, during the 1945 festival of Los Gigantes (a giant paper mâché puppet parade), locals were looking to stage a brawl to get some attention. They happened upon a vegetable cart nearby and starting hurling ripe tomatoes. Innocent onlookers got involved until the scene escalated into a massive melee of flying fruit. The instigators had to repay the tomato vendors, but that didn’t stop the recurrence of more tomato fights -- and the birth of a new tradition. Maybe it was an anti-Franco rebellion, or a carnival that got out of hand.
Fearful of an unruly escalation, authorities enacted, relaxed, and then reinstated a series of bans in the 1950s. In 1951, locals who defied the law were imprisoned until public outcry called for their release. The most famous effrontery to the tomato bans happened in 1957 when proponents held a mock tomato funeral complete with a coffin and procession. After 1957, the local government decided to roll with the punches, set a few rules in place, and embraced the wacky tradition.
Though the tomatoes take center stage, a week of festivities lead up to the final showdown. It’s a celebration of Buñol’s patron saints, the Virgin Mary and St. Louis Bertrand, with street parades, music, and fireworks in joyous Spanish fashion. To build up your strength for the impending brawl, an epic paella is served on the eve of the battle showcasing an iconic Valencian dish of rice, seafood, saffron, and olive oil.
La Tomatina - The Scene
Today, this unfettered festival has some measure of order. Organizers have gone so far as to cultivate a special variety of unpalatable tomatoes just for the annual event. Festivities kick off around 10am when participants race to grab a jamon serrano (ham) fixed atop a greasy pole. Onlookers hose the scramblers with water while singing and dancing in the streets. When the church bell strikes noon, trucks packed with tomatoes roll into town, while chants of “To-ma-te, To-ma-te!” reach a crescendo.
Then, at the sound of a blasting rocket, the main event begins. That’s the green light for crushing and launching tomatoes in all-out attacks against fellow participants. Long distance tomato lobbers, point blank assassins, and medium range hook shots. Whatever your technique, by the time it’s over, you will look (and feel) quite different. Nearly an hour later, tomato-soaked bombers are left to play in a sea of squishy street salsa with little left resembling a tomato to be found. A second rocket shot signals the end of the battle.
The aftermath is one horrific cleanup. All around, you’ll see fire trucks spraying the streets clean and white walls and t-shirts splattered with what resembles part New Age artwork, part battlefield massacre. People head over to the makeshift showers set up for the occasion to clean off tomato juice, skin, and seed from every crevice of their bodies, from their ears to their belly buttons. What Holi is to colorful India, La Tomatina is to farm-friendly Spain.
1. To avoid injuries, tomatoes have to be squashed before throwing.
2. No other projectiles except tomatoes are allowed.
3. Participants have to give way to the trucks and lorries.
4. T-shirts must be worn throughout the festival (though that doesn’t stop most from ripping them off).
5. No tomatoes can be thrown after the second shot fires.