tomato slide

Here’s what you need to know about La Tomatina in Buñol, Spain

Spain is one of the world’s top 10 tourist destinations. As of 2019, Spain was the 2nd most visited country in the world. 

It is bordered by Portugal to the west, France to the north and the Mediterranean Sea to the South and East. Its landmarks, landscape, cultural heritage, and cuisine attract people from around the globe.

Among these attractions is the extremely popular and unique festival called La Tomatina. This event essentially involves throwing tomatoes at other people. This post attempts to thoroughly explore the story behind this messy food fight; tells you how it is celebrated and lastly, recommends a few places to see in the town that hosts the event.

 

What is La Tomatina?

La Tomatina is an annual fiesta or a cultural festival that is celebrated in a small town called Buñol. It is part of a week-long festival dedicated to honouring the patron saints of Buñol, San Luis Bertran and the Virgin Mary. The week of festivities includes singing, dancing, fireworks, paella cooking competitions and of course, the Tomatina. 

The Tomatina marks the end of the week of festivities. The event can only be described as a wild, large-scale food fight where participants from around the world and from different backgrounds visit Buñol to throw squashed tomatoes at each other for fun.

Though the festival only lasts an hour, approximately 200,000 or 120 tonnes of tomatoes are used, flooding the entire area and covering everyone there with tomato pulp.

It is organized on the last Wednesday of every August from 11 am to 12 pm at the local town square of Plaza del Pueblo.

tomatina
The Tomatina Crowd. Image Credit: TripSavvy

This event is a great way to break the ice and socialize with locals and other tourists and a great medium to release pent-up emotions. Locals mention that earlier they would wait for the festival to express their frustration or anger towards someone, without truly harming them. 

La Tomatina Infantil 

The Tomatina festival that we know of is actually only for those above the age of 18.

To make sure that children also get to be a part of the festivities, in 2013 the city council began the concept of La Tomatina Infantil for children between the ages of 4 and 14.

This mini-Tomatina is organized on the Saturday before the main event in a fenced area designed specifically for children, where the guardians can look after them from behind the fence. This way children are also able to enjoy the festival without coming across the wild crowd on the day of the actual event.

The children do not need tickets to participate in the festival.

 

Over the years, this local festival has turned into an internationally renowned event that attracts approximately 20,000 tourists per year. 

The festival has been celebrated for over 70 years now and there is a story that explains why the festival is still observed.

Before we find out what started this event, let’s get to know the town a little better.

 

About Buñol

Buñol is a small town located in the Province of Valencia in Spain. The Province of Valencia lies to the northeast of Spain and the City of Valencia, the popular tourist destination and the 3rd largest city in the country is its capital. The town of Buñol is located 40km west of the city of Valencia. 

It is primarily known for hosting the Tomatina festival, for its rich history and monuments. As the town is located by the banks of the Buñol river and it is surrounded by mountain ranges, it is also known for its serene landscape. Historically, it was even known as Valencian Switzerland. 

bunol town
View of Buñol. Image Credit: Buñol Turismo

Buñol’s past as a tourist destination 

Buñol had been an agricultural and industrial town producing fruits, vegetables, almonds, olives, grapes, paper and cement. In 1883, the town got access to the regional rail service, which connected it to Valencia. This benefitted the town as it facilitated trade and made it accessible to tourists. Over time, however, the town has been victim to several economic crises due to political turmoil and wars, resulting in the decline of its paper and cement industries. Now, it mostly depends on tourism, the promotion of their cultural heritage and agriculture. 

Since the introduction of the rail service, the town of Buñol had become a popular summer destination at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The beautiful landscapes and mild climate would attract the wealthy Valencians to get away from the city during summer. This demand led to the creation of picnic spots, tourist accommodations and residences. However the Spanish civil war which followed soon after negatively impacted tourism at the time. With the popularity of the Tomatina festival, the town too became popular again. 

Now that we know a little bit about the place, let’s go back to talking about the festival.

 

Why is La Tomatina celebrated? 

The exact history of the Tomatina is unclear as many sources all have something different to say. However, the official website of the festival says that it began in 1945 at the Gigantes y cabezudos parade, which translates to Giants and big heads parade in English. 

This parade would be held at the Plaza del Pueblo on the last Wednesday of August. Here, participants would parade down the main square wearing costumes and giant paper mâché heads. 

In 1945, during this parade, a group of youngsters were fidgeting and disturbing the parade so much that the paper mâché of one of the participants had fallen off. Angered by this, the participant caused a commotion and eventually started throwing things at the youngsters and the crowd of spectators. Soon everyone started throwing things at each other. There was a vegetable stall in the proximity and after some time, the crowd started using fruits and vegetables from the stand as ammunition.

Other sources say that it was due to a dispute between two farmers at the Plaza del Pueblo, which eventually involved the entire town to throw vegetables at each other.

Either way, it was the largest food-fight the town had ever seen. So, the year following the incident, a group of young locals would attempt to re-enact it every year. Each time, law enforcement officials would intervene but that did not stop them to continue the event every year. With this and more support from locals, it became a tradition and eventually, the authorities allowed its celebration every year.

Challenges 

There were however some challenges that threatened the continuity of the festival in the past. In the early 1950s, just a few years after its inception, the festival was banned as per the orders of the then Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. 

From research, I found that it was banned because it initially had no religious connection to it, which was odd in Spain at the time. Later, the festival was associated with the patron saints of the town, thus creating a week-long celebration to honour them. 

By then the festival was already well-admired by the locals, so they were against the ban. As a sign of protest, they would carry coffins filled with tomatoes. Soon the authorities were pressurized by them to the point that they desisted and by the end of the 1950s, the festival was allowed to the locals to organize it again. This was also when it was branded as La Tomatina. 

Why tomatoes?

Some sources state that tomatoes were used while recreating the original food fight. Others say that, in the original fight, the locals picked tomatoes as their weapon of choice from the vegetable stand because they were easy to throw, it would hit others without severely injuring them and most importantly, it would leave stains on clothes.

Popularity 

The festival remained a local event until a documentary on the festival was aired on Spanish television in 1983. Since then, its popularity skyrocketed in Spain and eventually in the rest of the world too.

 

How is it celebrated? 

The actual event begins at 11 am but an hour before that is when the festivities truly begin. It starts with the palo jabon, where a leg of Spanish ham is hung on a pole greased with soap. The participants climb on top of each other to pull the ham down while water is sprayed all over the people. 

palo jabon
The palo jabon. Image Credit: OhFact!

Pulling the ham down signals the start of the event and the cannon sound goes off. Even if the ham isn’t brought down before 11 am, the cannon still goes off signalling the beginning of the tomato-throwing hour. 

Open trucks filled with crushed tomatoes pass through the main square starting from the place of the palo jabon. People on the trucks supply the participants with tomatoes and thus, the food fight begins. In total, 6 trucks pass by in an hour, resulting in a flood of tomato pulp with people swimming in it. 

tomato truck
Open trucks carrying the tomatoes. Image Credit: All Thats Interesting

After an hour, the cannon goes off again indicating the end of the event and everyone is expected to stop throwing tomatoes.

After the Event

Firetrucks are deployed after the hour to spray water and clean the area. The acidity acts as a disinfectant keeping the street really clean.

To clean the tomato matter off, people head to the municipality provisioned water points available near the event space.

Sometimes local residents are kind enough to stand in their balconies with a water hose to spray water all over people covered in tomato goop to help them clean themselves. 

Bars and pubs also have water pipes to help out the participants but they usually charge a small fee for the service. 

 

Once clean,  people enjoy drinks such as beer and sangria at the local pubs and they indulge in street meats and other street foods. Usually, these include paella, fritters called bunyols and various types of sausages. 

In fact, paella is prepared by the locals the day before at a paella-making competition. 

paella
Paella making contest. The image shows a display of finished paellas. Image Credit: Pinterest

Moreover, various Tomatina afterparties are organized where popular DJs are invited to play near the venue. More information on the events and tickets here

 

Extra Information and Tips to Prepare for the Event 

Clothes 

Traditionally, white shirts are worn to make the red colour of the tomato stand out even brighter than it already is. Nowadays, people wear old clothes that need to be thrown out. Alternatively, T-shirts with the official event logo and designs are purchased from stalls just outside the venue for a small fee. 

Sometimes the events get wild and people rip each other’s clothes off. The organizers advise against it, but in the moment of excitement, things could get crazy.

This is why ladies often wear either bathing suits or sports bras underneath their clothes. It is always a good idea to carry a change of clothes because they will be needed after the food-fight.

Eye protection

It is a good idea to bring either snorkelling glasses or some form of gear to protect the eyes from acidic tomatoes.

Shoes

Wearing sneakers with a good grip is a better idea than wearing sandals and flip-flops. This is because the streets can get extremely slippery and risk an injury from falling. 

Tickets 

Access bands along with proof of identity are required to enter the event space. Tickets need to be purchased online beforehand. 

Tickets are sold out quickly as only 20,000 visitors are allowed to participate, so make sure to purchase your tickets beforehand. The tickets normally cost €10 and are available on their official website.

Ticket counters are available near the venue but they are usually for locals and it is overall difficult to find tickets at the last minute at those counters. 

Tomatina and the COVID 19 Pandemic 

Due to the COVID 19 pandemic, the Tomatina was cancelled in 2020. Though the date of the event has been set for 2021, there is no information yet on the availability of the tickets. For updates and more information please keep checking their official website.

Accommodation and reaching Buñol

Accommodation in Buñol is limited so, be sure to make reservations ahead of time, either in Buñol or in Valencia. 

Valencia city is the closest metropolitan area to Buñol. It is accessible by air and sea. From there, Buñol is accessible by rail or road. By road, it is possible to rent a car or hire a taxi to the town. The commute takes approximately 30-40min. 

Alternatively, frequent bus services are also available from Valencia where the journey takes around 1 hour.

By rail, the Cercanias Renfe service train C3 from Valencia stops at Buñol station. The commute could take  anywhere from 45min to 1 hour

 

Some travel agents have special Tomatina package tours that organize accommodation, transportation, refreshments and entry to events for the preferred number of days.

 

Event Etiquette 

  • Smash the tomatoes before throwing them to reduce the impact of the hit and avoid injuring others.
  • Maintain distance from the trucks that pass by the street. Usually, someone from the organizing team will clear the path however, it is always good to be cautious.

 

Sourcing the tomatoes 

At this point you may be wondering, where do they get so many tomatoes?

To answer your question in short, they are not from Buñol. 

They are actually grown in Extremadura, a place 600km to the west of Buñol. The Buñol city council purchases cheap inferior quality tomatoes that are unfit for consumption. 

Extremuda is located in the southwest of Spain where tomato is the main food crop. Tomato production over there yields almost 75% of the national production. Its climate and soil conditions make it an ideal place to grow tomatoes. For the Tomatina, only inferior, over-ripe, nearly rotten, inedible tomatoes are supplied. This is why they are budget-friendly and technically not wasteful to use for the Tomatina. 

 

tomatoes
Tomatoes used for La Tomatina are of inferior quality and are purchased for a small amount from Extremadura. Image Credit: Fifofuspain

 

Impact of the festival on Buñol and Spain overall

In 2002, La Tomatina was recognized as a Festival of International Tourist Interest of Spain by the Secretariat of Tourism of the Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Trade, Government of Spain. This is because it attracts a large number of tourists from around the world and the international media attention it gets, which promotes Spain as a destination. 

Buñol only has just more than 9000 inhabitants, and the festival brings in at least 2 times that number. Tourist expenditure on accommodation, food, drinks, transportation and events generate valuable revenue for the town and the nearby city of Valencia.

Furthermore, its connection to the patron saints of the city makes it an important cultural event in Spain. The Tomatina has truly become an identity of the town of Buñol.

 

Places to see in Buñol

Though the Tomatina has become synonymous with Buñol, the town has more to offer than just this summer event. The following places are worth visiting anytime outside the tomato event: 

Castillo de Buñol: This Medieval castle was built in the 13th century at the centre of the town. It exhibits the remnants of a rich past. Guided tours are available for a detailed experience. Visit their official site for more information. 

castle
Image of the Castillo de Buñol. Image Credit: Ayuntamiento de Bunol

Cueva Turche: The Turche cave is a natural feature that forms a lake and an active waterfall when it rains. It is the ideal spot to enjoy a beautiful view and set up a picnic.

cave waterfall
Image of the 60m waterfall at the cave. Image Credit: Ayuntamiento de Bunol

 

Manantial de San Luis: This is a park built to honour the patron saint, San Luis Bertran. This park is great to get a view of the Buñol river, for an afternoon nap or siesta, a walk, or a picnic. There is even a spring located within the park which just adds to the already gorgeous landscape. The park sometimes even hosts concerts and other cultural events. 

Galan Mill: This paper mill and dryer is now a symbol of the once eminent paper industry. It is located next to the Buñol River. 

The building was constructed in the early 19th century and has gone through several renovations. Now, one of the floors has been converted into a museum of La Tomatina.

San Pedro Apostol Church: This magnificent church was built in 1790 in the neoclassical style. The intricate interiors, the sculptor of San Jose and the outer dome make up the unique features of this church.

church
Image of the church and the dome. Image Credit: Tomatina.info

Archaeological Museum: This museum is located within the compound of the Catillo de Bunol. It houses artifacts even from the paleolithic times. 

 

In conclusion, the crazy, unique and fascinating methods of celebration are what set Spain apart from other European countries. La Tomatina is definitely one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences worth making the trip for.

 

Please do not hesitate to share your thoughts on this post down in the comments and click here for more articles like this.

 

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