Lonely Planet Writer

In pictures: 20,000 people get messy for La Tomatina food fight festival in Spain

Throngs of tourists and locals alike took to the streets of a town in Spain last week to throw tomatoes at each other.

A man lies in the street during La Tomatina Food Fight Festival in Bunol, Spain.
A man lies in the street during La Tomatina Food Fight Festival in Bunol, Spain. Image by Biel Alino/AFP/Getty Images

The strange display was for La Tomatina, a food fight festival that has been held in Bunol near Valencia in August every year since 1944. The event sees thousands of people making their way from all over the world to take part, with over one hundred metric tonnes of over-ripe tomatoes being thrown in the streets during the event.

Thousands of people throw softened tomatoes at each other from trucks in the street of Bunol near Valencia.
Thousands of people throw softened tomatoes at each other from trucks in the street of Bunol near Valencia. Image by Biel Alino/AFP/Getty Images

With a population of 9000 people, the small town has played host to huge numbers of people for the event, with a record high of 50,000 in 2012. However, since 2013 the official ticketing capacity has been capped at 20,000.

Buckets of tomato pulp and juice is thrown at participants during La Tomatina Festival.
Buckets of tomato pulp and juice are thrown at participants during La Tomatina Festival. Image by Biel Alino/AFP/Getty Images

With limited accommodation available in Bunol, many visitors stay in Valencia which is 38 kilometres away. In preparation for the dirty mess that will ensue, shopkeepers use huge plastic covers on their storefronts in order to protect them from the carnage.

A worried local assess the damage to the streets while a large plastic tarp covers her building.
A worried local assess the damage to the streets while a large plastic tarp covers her building. Image by Biel Alino/AFP/Getty Images

On the morning of the event, trucks haul a bounty of tomatoes into Plaza del Pueblo in the centre of the town. Technically the festival does not begin until one brave soul has climbed to the top of a two-storey 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 without anyone having reached the meaty prize.

The festival sees over one hundred metric tonnes of tomatoes being used.
The festival sees over one hundred metric tonnes of tomatoes being used. Image by Biel Alino/AFP/Getty Images

The signal for the beginning of the fight is the firing of water cannons, and the chaos begins.  After one hour, the fighting ends and the clean-up process begins, with fire trucks being called in to hose down the streets.

The festival is a long held tradition, believed to be started in 1944 when disgruntled locals threw food at members of the establishment.
The festival is a long-held tradition, believed to be started in 1944 when disgruntled locals threw food at members of the establishment. Image by Biel Alino/AFP/Getty Images

Rules of La Tomatina include no ripping t-shirts, no hard bottles or objects that may cause harm to participants and each participant must squash every tomato before throwing it to reduce impact. Each year the festival advises those taking part to wear goggles, closed shoes and old clothes.