You may not have heard of the tiny town of Buñol in Valencia, Spain before, but you have probably heard of or seen photographs of a a massive, strange food fight where people rocket tomatoes at one another for fun. That peculiar battle is known as the Tomatina and its the peculiar tradition of the small village of Buñol and it is definitely something you should experience once in a life time. Read on to discover what the Tomatina festival is all about.
The tomato fight (la Tomatina festival) is celebrated each year on the last Wednesday of August in Buñol – a village of barely 9000 people in Valencia’s. The event goes from 11 to 12 in the morning and more than 20,000 people flock there every year to take part in the world’s largest food fight. The ammunition consists of over 160.000 kilos of tomatoes which end up painting the small-town red, rivers of tomatoes pure running through the streets.
The battle is preceded by “el palo jabón” a traditional commencement ritual, common though out Europe that dates back to 6000 BC where people try to scale a greased pole and reach a prize at the end. Once some on reaches the top and secures the prize a small explosion signals the beggining of the the fight and 6 truck loaded with the tomatoes back up and begin slowly creeping through the streets of Buñol, so participants have ammo readily available. Locals ride in the trucks distributing tomatoes to those who need them. One of the best and moments of the battle occurs towards the end when the truck, low on tomatoes, open their back doors and the remaining tomatoes spill out onto the streets.
The tomatoes are brought from the nearby town of Xilxes in Castellón and they are grown EXCLUSIVELY for the Tomatina. It is a specific variety of tomato that doesn’t taste great, but is perfect for throwing at another human being.
The history of this peculiar festival dates back to 1945. There are several theories on how it started but the most widely accepted version is that during a parade of the Spanish “carnavales” several young men joined the parade without permition. The group of people who had been participating in the parade demanded that they leave and a fight broke out that was stifled by the police. The next year the same thing happened but this time the young men brought tomatoes with which to pelt the parade. The police once again stopped the fight and after that the parade was cancelled, but the neighbours continued with this odd tomato fight. In 1957 the Tomatina festival was prohibited, so the neighbours held a makeshift tomato funeral in protest. Finally, in 1959 the Tomatina was re-instated and rules for the fight were agreed upon. The battle has become one of Spain’s most popular Festivals, so much so that in 2002 the Tomatina was declared a “celebration of international touristic interest” by the Spanish government.
Nowadays visiting Buñol is free but if you wan to participate in the “battle” there is an entry fee, around 10€, and proper attire must be worn and the battles rules and safety measures must be observed. Also keep in mind that Buñol is a very small village and accommodations are hard to come by. Your best option is probably shacking up in Valencia and go to and from, plus you get to visit Valencia which is always a good thing. Another option is to head over to the El Planell camping grounds if you are looking for a more adventurous experience. Also make sure to bring a change of clothes and if you are afraid of getting tomato juice in your eyes you better bring goggles or snorkeling gear.
The battle itself is only an hour long but the festival lasts the whole week. During that week the town lights, up and the streets are filled with vendors, there are parades, fireworks, a junior tomato fight for kids, paella cook-offs, all the classic staples of a good Spanish “fiesta de pueblo” of village festival, which is as an authentic experience you can have in Spain.
In recent years a small music festival has also been taking place the same week, just outside of town. The Tomatina Sound Festival keeps the party going straight throw the night. The festival attracts a decent array on Spanish and international bands who rock Tomatina festival goers the last two days of the festival. So, if you were so inclined, you could party all night and head straight into the battle.
How ever you choose to enjoy la Tomatina festival, it is one of Spain’s quirkiest and most unforgettable festivals you can experience. If tomatoes aren’t your speed, you might want to check out the wine battle in Haro instead!