Buñol, a village of barely 10,000 inhabitants near Valencia in Spain, celebrates one of the wildest festivals on the planet. It’s hard to imagine, but more than 30,000 people gather together in the village’s public square on the last Wednesday in August … to throw tomatoes at each other!
Good for the skin
The origins of the event go back to 1945, when a group of youths grabbed some nearby tomatoes to throw at each other when they were in the middle of a fight. The next year, the battle recommenced, but this time they brought some tomatoes with them. Despite the town hall repeatedly banning the fight, it became increasingly popular until finally the authorities gave in.
With 37,000 participants in 2004, it’s clear that Tomatina welcomes more and more visitors every year, especially foreigners attracted by the unique nature of the event, which has been written about on over 100 Web pages worldwide, a success which has almost overwhelmed local businesses. Pilar Garrigues, Buñol’s councillor for Sports, Fairs and Festivals, explains that Buñol locals “go from recognising everybody in the streets on Tuesday morning” to being lost among the crowd of Japanese, English, Scandinavians, Canadians and other foreigners who take over the town on Tuesday night. It is then that the pre-Tomatina begins with an all-night party from which many continue directly to the battle, but not without having had a good breakfast first.
The main attraction comes on Wednesday morning at 11 am sharp. Trucks brimming with tomatoes start arriving in the square and people take their places. The battle begins with an audible signal and tomatoes, grown for the occasion in the nearby town of Xilxes and ripened to be just right, start staining T-shirts, faces and streets. In fact, Buñol locals explain that tomatoes’ acid is perfect for the skin, hair… and even for cleaning the streets! The battle lasts just one hour, in which 132 tons of tomatoes ended up being thrown last year.
But the party goes on
After the battle, Buñol recovers its tranquillity but the calm is relative. The long week of Fairs and Festivals goes beyond the Tomatina and is not over yet. Therefore, after regaining their strength with a “people’s siesta”, an official ceremony even announced in the programme of events, Buñol locals continue the celebrations in honour of the patron saints of the town, but this time without invasions. Because, unfortunately, most of the tourists who visit Buñol for the Tomatina event leave the next day, thus missing out on the true meaning of the festivities: processions, gastronomic contests at 5 in the morning, concerts by the town’s two musical bands... To sum up, this is the challenge, “to try to get them to stay”, as Pilar Garrigues puts it, and explore Buñol’s culture when the streets stop turning red.
Last Wednesday in August