Forty kilometers west of Valencia, the last Wednesday of August every year, the small, sleepy town of Buñol comes alive with a fevered battle that sees the streets run red with...tomatoes! La Tomatina Festival 2018
, or any other year for that matter is the world’s largest tomato throwing festival and one of the more eccentric traditions of the Iberian peninsula
Origins of La Tomatina
Much ambiguity surrounds the origins of the La Tomatina. In fact, if you were to stop each of Buñol’s 9000 inhabitants and ask them for their take, you’d get a different story each time.
Unlike a majority of Spanish fiestas, La Tomatina has neither a religious or political slant. And, while stories of how it all began do vary, it is widely agreed that the first iteration of the event took place in the 1940s.
One of the most common versions understands that an impromptu food fight broke out between a group of teenagers in the town’s main square. The ammunition: tomatoes from salads. They enjoyed flinging their food around so much that the following year they returned to relive the experience, this time bringing their own tomatoes.
Another story goes that when a traveling musician turned up in Buñol, he played music so badly that the townsfolk pelted him with tomatoes in an attempt to run him out of town.
And, the third most popular story suggests that the origins of the festival were the result of a fiesta gone bad. During one of the town’s carnivals a massive brawl broke out, and people resorted to chucking vegetables at each other from a nearby stall. What began fueled by anger slowly turned to fun. So, the following year, on the same day, those involved returned and took up where they left off.
Whatever the exact origins are, the mystery that surrounds the birth of the festival is very much a part of what makes it such a strange and wonderful experience.
Rise in Popularity
Spanish dictator Franco banned the festival because of its lack of political or religious significance. But, with the dictator’s death in 1975, La Tomatina was quickly reinstated. It has run consistently every year since, growing in both reputation and popularity.
The tomato throwing festival has since reached such levels of fame that it has been exported globally and is celebrated in two other cities. In South America, the Colombian town of Sutamarchan holds their own version of La Tomatina in June. And, in Reno, Nevada in the United States of America, the American Cancer Society organizes a Tomatina to raise funds for the organization.
But, what is La Tomatina?
You know that the Tomatina tomato fight is, well, a giant food fight where soft tomatoes become weapons of tomatoey destruction. But what is La Tomatina exactly? What does the day consist of? Why go?
La Tomatina happens annually on the last Wednesday of August. This year La Tomatina Festival 2018 will take place on the 29th of August.
Buñol is a small industrial town based in the autonomous community of Valencia about 40 kilometers west of the city of Valencia. The festival regularly pulled in crowds of 50,000 people from all over the world and was free. However, in 2013, a recession-hit Spain and town, bruised by the global financial crisis, began to ticket the event and imposed a 20,000 participant cap. The money generated from La Tomatina tickets goes towards paying for the tomatoes and the many services needed to ensure a safe and enjoyable event for all. And, it should go without saying, the mammoth clean-up job, of course.
The Palo Jabon
As with every year, La Tomatina Festival 2018 will begin with the Palo Jabon, or, the ham pole. This is a wonderful part of the festival that is often lost in the tomatoey mayhem that follows the food fight’s start.
The Palo Jabon is a two-story high, greased pole with a ham skewered atop it. And, before, the festival can “officially” start someone must reach it. So, a little before 10 o’clock everyone gathers in Placa de Pueblo where at 10.00 on the dot a signal kicks off the mad scramble to get to the top of the pole.
This is an endeavor that rarely ever eventuates in success. The pole is so greasy that climbing it is a feat that even Spiderman would struggle to accomplish. But, those who feel up to the challenge, climb over each other, desperate to be the one to start the show.
The ham often remains perched atop the pole, untouched, at 11.00. So, after another signal, the tomato throwing starts anyway.
In previous years there has been as much as 150 tonnes of tomatoes to throw. Massive trucks ferry these in from Extremadura where the neighboring town grows them specifically for the occasion.
With the signal at 11.00, the distribution of tomatoes begins. This process that involves people throwing them into the crowds from the giant trucks. Once armed, the whole town erupts into a carnival of tomato carnage which lasts an hour.
At 12.00 another signal goes, and this one marks the end of the festival. You must stop throwing your tomatoes immediately. Then everyone makes their way down to the river. Here, you can wash the pulp, seeds, and juice off of yourself in the showers or dunk yourself in the river.
Meanwhile, the fire trucks come out and hose down the city streets. Interestingly, the acidity in the tomato juice that coats the town’s streets and walls works as a fabulous cleaning agent and leaves everything gleaming.
Rules & Regs
Despite the apparent madness, there are rules to the festival, and they must be adhered to. They are simple, straightforward, and enforced so listen up.
This is a big one. Tomatoes must be squashed before they are thrown. Failing to do this will land you in trouble and may injure people. So, before you throw, soften up your tomato with a firm squeeze.
Do not, on any account, bring any glass bottles, sharp or hard objects with you. Again, these can injure people, and there are checks,
When you are in the crowds, keep your hands to yourself and your tomatoes. Do not pull at other people. Be considerate of the fact that you are in a large crowd, and although things are tight, respect people’s space.
Keep your distance from the large trucks of tomatoes. Yes, the trucks are your munitions depot, but for your safety give them room. They drive through narrow streets, crowded by revelers, and depend on you to move out of the way to let them through.
When the second signal goes at 12.00 marking the end of the tomato throwing, you must stop throwing tomatoes immediately. As tempting as it may be to keep throwing, do not do it.
Over the long course of the Tomatina tomato fight, has never recorded any serious injury. This is a safe festival, that’s a ton of fun that thousands enjoy annually.
Okay, so before you head off to La Tomatina Festival 2018, here’s are the rules, regulations and some general advice to help you along.
First off, take some protective eyewear. If you’re thinking, “uh, soft tomatoes, like that’s gonna be a problem,” maybe you’re right. But, hey, a whole goop of juice in your eyes can be pretty uncomfortable and always better safe than sorry. So, swimming goggles, scuba mask, whatever, just cover those eyes.
Next, leave the tux and ball gown at home. This is a food fight, so dress accordingly. Remember that tomato stains, so make sure what you wear is something you don’t have much of an attachment to. It’s also worth noting that the floor gets slippery. So, a solid pair, of closed toed shoes is best. Only take the bare essentials. And, if you plan on taking a camera with you, then invest in a lightweight protective cover. Otherwise, expect water damage.
La Tomatina Tickets
You can buy La Tomatina tickets online from the official website
for € 12. If you want to attend, you must purchase one in advance. Although the festival was once a free event, due to the recession and to keep attendance to a more manageable level, you must now buy a ticket.
Getting from Barcelona to La Tomatina
If you’re visiting Barcelona
at the end of August and are keen to attend the festival, a trip down south is easy.
For those with access to a car, the drive takes approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes. It is easily navigable with the assistance of a sat-nav. Renfe operates trains between the Barcelona and Buñol with a changeover in Valencia. Or, you can take a bus, which again goes via Valencia. This is the longest journey of the three with the route taking 5 hours and 38 minutes.
While the festival itself is in Buñol, it is best to stay in Valencia. Buñol is small, and people book accommodation around the time of the festival well in advance.
Tours & Day Trips
Lots of tour operators organize trips to Buñol from Barcelona for the festival. Dependent on what you are after prices will vary. Look online to find options that best suit your needs.
Once you’ve finally managed to wash all the tomato out of your hair, you can cross La Tomatina off of your bucket list of travel experiences. Then, you jump on a plane and head for Italy where in Ivrea they substitute tomatoes for oranges
and enjoy another food fight. Happy travels.