The mayhem begins on Calle del Cid, a quaint street that borders the main square. At 11 am, a tall greased pole is hoisted into the air, displaying a ham attached to the end. Thousands of participants struggle against the crowd to pull the ham free. Once it is released, a rocket shoots into the sky and trucks carrying over 1,000 tons of juicy, ripe tomatoes release the produce into the streets. For the next hour, the entire street becomes engaged in a frenzied tomato battle before being hosed down by local fireman.
The Food Fight's History
The first La Tomatina was held in 1945, but every local has a different theory as to why. Some believe that disgruntled inhabitants hurled tomatoes at city councilman during a local celebration while others believe that its origins lie in the anti-Franco protest movement. Others claim the festival simply erupted as a food fight between friends. No matter which version is true, the people of Bunol enjoyed the food fight so much they decided to repeat it year after year. La Tomatina became an officially recognized celebration in 1952, and although it waned during the 1970s, the festival has returned in full force every year since.
Today, the festival celebrates the patron saint of Bunol, St. Louis Bertrand.
Traveling to La Tomatina
Bunol is just 40 kilometers from Valencia, a vibrant city on the shores of Mediterranean. The festival's close proximity to Spain's third largest city means that many tourists come just for the day, taking the early train from Valencia and returning in the afternoon.
To truly experience La Tomatina, stay in Bunol for the entire week-long celebration. Arrive the night before the food fight to sample winning dishes from the paella cooking contest in which the women wear all white and the men cook topless. After the tomato fight, celebrate with the locals for seven days of music, parades, fireworks and dancing.
Preparing for the food fight
Tomatoes may seem gentle, but protection is recommended for those participating in the fight. The following lists of what to bring and what to leave behind can prepare you for La Tomatina.
La Tomatina Essentials:
Old shoes that fasten tightly.
Sturdy goggles to protect your eyes.
A change of clothes for the post-fight hose down.
A plan for meeting friends after the food fight. With thousands of people crowding the streets, it can be easy to lose your travel group. Choose a street corner, landmark or restaurant to meet at following the fight.
What Not to Bring to La Tomatina:
Leave your camera and valuables behind unless you want them covered in tomatoes.
Aggressive attitudes have no place at La Tomatina. Avoid bruising others by squishing your tomatoes before pelting them into the crowd.
Children can certainly enjoy the celebration's other events, but should refrain from participating in the food fight.
If the idea of being doused with soggy tomatoes is not part of your holiday vision, watch festival coverage on Canal 9, the local television channel of Valencia.