Maybe you've heard of La Tomatina, the tomato-throwing free-for-all that takes place on the last Wednesday of August in the Spanish town of Bunol. La Tomatina is billed as "The World's Largest Food Fight," and it looks like more truth than hyperbole.

Some details, in case you'd like to go (from La Tomatina Tours):

The tomato fight has been a strong tradition in Bunol since 1944 or 1945. No one is completely certain how this event originated. Possible theories on how the Tomatina began include a local food fight among friends, a juvenile class war, a volley of tomatoes from bystanders at a carnival parade, a practical joke on a bad musician, and the anarchic aftermath of an accidental lorry spillage.

One popular theory is that disgruntled townspeople attacked city councilmen with tomatoes during a town celebration. Whatever happened to begin the tradition, it was enjoyed so much that it was repeated the next year, and the year after that, and so on. The holiday was banned during the Spanish State period under Francisco Franco for having no religious significance, but returned in the 1970s after his demise.

The festival is in honor of the town's patron saints, Luis Bertran and the Mare de Deu dels Desemparats (Mother of God of the Defenseless), a title of the Virgin Mary. 

Keep in mind, this has been going strong for 70 years now. It used to be that anyone could take part, but due to huge influxes of people each year, the town of Bunol has now gone to a ticketing/wristband system that caps attendees at around 20,000. Still, for a town with a population of 9000, it gets a bit crowded. So, how does it work?

At around 11am many trucks haul the bounty of tomatoes into the centre of the town, Plaza del Pueblo. The tomatoes come from Extremadura, where they are less expensive. Technically the festival does not begin until one brave soul has climbed to the top of a two-story high, greased-up wooden pole and reached the coveted ham at the top. In practice this process takes a long time and the festival starts despite no one reaching the meaty prize. The signal for the beginning of the fight is firing of water cannons, and the chaos begins. Once it begins, the battle is generally every man for himself.

After an one hour the fighting ends. At this point, no more tomatoes can be thrown. The cleaning process involves the use of fire trucks to spray down the streets, with water provided from a Roman aqueduct. The authorities seem more concerned with cleaning the town than cleaning the visitors, so some people find water at the Bunol River to wash themselves, although some kind residents will hose passers-by down. Once the tomato pulp is flushed, the ground is clean due to the acidity of the tomato. 

Just want to check it out from a safe distance?

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