Ranjit Shergill braves a barrage of ripe fruit to find out more about La Tomatina, Valencia's famous annual tomato fight.
Once a year on the last Wednesday of August, the quaint town of Buñol in Valencia takes a deep breath. It then descends into the world’s biggest food fight with red skins flying through the air and splatterings of seeds swept across the ground.
How It All Began
The history of La Tomatina is mysterious. Some quarters believe it was created as a result of a protest in Buñol where locals pelted tomatoes at key political figures, others believe that long ago, youngsters in the local market decided to randomly attack one another with tomatoes and created a chain reaction. As the years went by, La Tomatina became a formalised event and in 1975 the then patron of Buñol, Saint Luis Bertran, decided to take up the responsibility of providing the supplies of tomatoes, resulting in the festival eventually becoming managed by the local council.
The festival itself starts in the early morning with hurtling tomatoes providing a powerful antidote for even the heaviest of hangover stupors. Dress lightly as it gets hot and sticky at this time of year and it's advisable to leave valuables back at your base as pickpockets are an unfortunate presence. Local shops and residences also take precautions, covering their foyers with excess layers of plastic to offset the impact of the imminent onslaught of tomatoes. Before the crowds and trucks of tomatoes start to crowd Buñol's main street, Calle Cid, all focus turns towards the Palo Jabon, a bag of ham sitting atop a wooden pole smothered in grease. Members of the public are challenged to climb this treacherous pole and claim the ham with expectedly hilarious results. The rules of La Tomatina state that the ham must be claimed before the tomato run can start but often the ham remains unclaimed and the rule is waived.
The Main Event
By 11 a.m. the lorries of tomatoes have taken up their stations on Calle Cid, the water canons sound and the tomato hurling begins. To soften the blow, participants squash their tomatoes before pelting them at fellow attendees, and after an hour of furious crushing and launching, the street and everyone involved is covered in a carpet of red. The final whistle is blown at midday and the tomato slinging stops. Locals stationed at their balconies above hurl buckets of water on the crowd to 'help' rinse off the tomato remains and cool down the slingers. The rest of the day dissolves into street parties full of sangria and socialising.
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