History of La Tomatina
La Tomatina is one of those annual world events that attract enormous amounts and ever increasing amounts of travellers to Valencia. La Tomatina takes place in the normally sleepy village of Buñol about an hour from the city and is a magnet, not just for backpackers and young people taking their year out, but for people of all ages who just want to experience the world’s biggest food fight.
This is no ancient festival celebrated for hundreds of years by the villagers, it is actually only celebrating its 64th birthday this year. With that in mind, you would think it would be easy enough to find out how its started but, it is the stuff of legends already with several competing stories of its origins.
Theories over the origins of La Tomatina include a lorry accidentally spilling tomatoes, a food fight between friends, local councillors being pelted by disgruntled locals, a tuneless busker being splatted and an ‘improvisation’ during a carnival parade. Revolutionaries will be interested to hear that a youthful and delinquent ‘class war’ has also been cited.
Due to it having no religious meaning, the humourless dictator General Franco chose to ban La Tomatina for a time. It is here now and getting so big and so popular that it is hard to see how the village can sustain (and contain) it!
This year it has been estimated that 45,000 people threw a total of 125 tons of tomatoes at each other, an increase on the over 40,000 people last year. Buñol is a small village and really it is hard to see how this part of their week-long fiesta can expand much more, but every year the numbers attending are larger and break the previous record.
Many people travel to the hour-long food fight expecting it to last all day but it begins after someone has managed to get a leg of Jamón Serrano by shinnying up the soaped pole. The minute someone is lucky or plucky enough to grab the ham, a cannon shot heralds the arrival of the lorries carrying not just the tomatoes but revellers from the village, who pelt the hot and wet crowds with the tomatoes and battle commences.
Whilst the soapy pole is being attempted, more and more people arrive in the streets and in the intense heat people actually welcome the water being sloshed over them from the balconies above. The La Tomatina battle rages for exactly one hour of mayhem with goggled and fancy-dressed ‘crazies’ from the four corners of the world throwing tomatoes, bits of clothing and other sundry items at each other, it is a frenzied hour and all good dirty fun.
Within minutes of the start of the battle the fiesta lights strung across the streets begin to look more like bunting, garlanded as they are with soggy, dripping T-shirts. At the sound of the second cannon, fighting stops and there is a momentary hush as people struggle to stay standing in the shin-deep tomato puree and wipe pulp, skins and seeds from eyes and crevices. Then the noise begins anew as people laugh at the state of each other and others lay in the mess laughing. I have heard the experience described over and over again as a drug rush, a mad bit of crazy, eccentric fun, and that really is what it is. I have yet to meet anyone who hated it.
Buñol puts on a miraculously good-natured show each year, no price-hiking for food, drink or merchandise. The villagers genuinely seem to have great fun cheerfully helping revellers to clean up with hoses and buckets of water all over the place as you leave. I have heard so many times from visitors from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and the UK that were it to happen in their towns/countries, there would be sponsorship and entry would be charged, and there would be aggression and danger. Not so here in Buñol. It is just a good excuse to have fun.
A little known fact about La Tomatina is that not only do they take great pride in breaking the attendance records each year, but they also try to break the record for the clean-up after the battle. Last year they took just one hour to clean the village (and we are talking spotless), 36 volunteers were helped by the residents of the village to get Buñol clean for the rest of the fiestas and to look like there had never been 6 trucks carrying 125 tons of tomatoes to throw at 45,000 people!
We’d just got to Valencia on our summer tour around Europe and really wanted to go to the Tomatina, but weren’t sure how to get there or anything, so we asked at our Hotel and they told us about the thisisvalencia.com tour. It sounded like a really good deal, especially the facts that we could get all cleaned up and have a nice boozy lunch afterwards by a pool. The posters looked really fun so we signed up.
We all met at the Ayutamiento early in the morning, and there were three buses waiting to take us away. The tour guides were so nice and friendly, and really made us feel welcome; we could leave all our stuff on the bus which was cool, and we really got to know everyone in the group we were on the same bus with all day which was great! The Tomatina was amazing, the Spanish are mad!
We’ve never seen anything like it and it was lucky we had (free) goggles because we got bits of tomatoes absolutely everywhere – in nooks and crannies we never even knew existed! It lasted for an hour, and the smell was a bit gross, but when you come out after it’s all over, all the Buñol locals are hanging over their balconies and out of windows with buckets of water and hosepipes, they seemed to love it!
One little girl especially was so cute, she was so intent on getting us clean and we’d learnt a bit of Spanish on the bus so said Gracias! By the time we got back to the bus and changed, we were as good as new. Lunch was yummy – we were starving by then and filled up on paella and beer and sangría, then lounged on the grass in the sun and mucked around in the pool before it was time to go home. Well worth the money, we’re definitely coming back next year!
Jane – London