Buñol, Spain. For 364 days a year, this sun-drenched little city near Valencia goes about its peaceful life with just over 9000 residents. But on the last Wednesday of August, everything changes: beginning at dawn, the village is literally invaded by over 50,000 people who arrive from all over the world, to take part in a war, armed with only … tomatoes. Yes, this is La Tomatina festival, probably the world’s most famous food fight.
Every year (in 2016 it will be held on 31 August), between 110-155 tons of tomatoes (those unfit for food consumption) are brought in from the surrounding countryside, unloaded from huge trucks right in the town centre and then collected by “regiments” of young fighters looking for ammunition. The battle never begins before 11am, when a canon shot sends the signal to the food fighters, some of whom have arrived from as far away as Japan or Australia. There is just one iron-clad rule: you can’t throw whole tomatoes, but must squeeze them lightly in your hands before “shooting” them, so as not to hurt anybody. But beyond that, there’s only advice and suggestions from the “veterans”: wear old clothes and protect your eyes with glasses or masks.
The origins of La Tomatina festival in Spain
But what is this all about? Like every popular tradition, the origins of this festival, which mixes religion and local culture with typical Spanish joie de vivre, are mysterious. Almost every inhabitant of Buñol has his or her own version: according to some, La Tomatina festival began when a group of kids used tomatoes to chase a group of terrible musicians out of town. According to others, it’s part of the celebrations dedicated to San Luigi, the town’s patron saint. Others believe it began as a form of spontaneous protest against local administrators.
What is certain is that the festival began in 1940 and has been celebrated consistently, despite various efforts to eliminate it from the local calendar, as attempted under the government of Francisco Franco. But for over 70 years, La Tomatina of Buñol has inspired other similar celebrations in other parts of the world, like Colombia, Costa Rica, China and Nevada.
At the end of the day, however, the only trace of this extravagant food fight is a mere 15 centimetres of red sauce on the streets of Buñol: if you still can't believe it, view the gallery at the top of the page and you'll change your mind!