Painting the town red

By | Travel
La Tomatina Credit@suzie dsouzaviaflickr.com

Buñol is a small historic town in the province of Valencia, roughly 40kms west of the autonomous capital. It is a relatively quiet area, surrounded by several different mountain ranges providing the town with a natural windbreak, and a beautiful wooded backdrop. Only around 10,000 people live in Buñol, making it a peaceful district, driven by honest agriculture; producing almonds, grapes, citrus fruits, olives and tomatoes. It is most widely known across Spain for the Castillo de Buñol, a 13th century citadel, located on a rolling hill above the tiled roofs of the town. The citadel is an impressive, imposing building, once a Christian fortress it is divided into two separate enclosures connected by a bridge.

The area known as the old town is light and airy and its architecture is jaunty, yet it is evidently centuries old. The traditional Valencia mixes with the contemporary to create a charming quirkiness. Calle de la Sarten is the finest example of this blend; impressive mansions over 100 years old, small delicate cafes, and independent shops line the street. The El Salvador church in the center of town is also an interesting place to see, as it houses an archaeological museum inside its halls, detailing the town’s 50,000 year old history. Buñol has a relaxed vibe and a mellow atmosphere amongst its cobbled streets, and the 300 ornate fountains that are scattered around the parks add to the allure.

La Tomatina Credit@flidimeviaflickr.com

La Tomatina Credit@flidimeviaflickr.com

For eleven months a year Buñol is placid and serene, until August when La Tomatina comes to town. La Tomatina is the red fiesta, a unique event in which thousands come to take part in tomato throwing for the pure fun of it; a food bout on the grandest of scales. More than 100 tonnes of ripe tomato are thrown, squeezed, squashed, flung and trodden on as the town is quite literally painted red. The fiesta is actually a week long and full of celebrations including fireworks, live music and cultural dance, the main attraction is the tomato event which takes place on the last Wednesday of the month.

The fiesta’s history began almost 70 years ago in 1945, when a group of men spoke out for their right to join in the Gigantes y cabezudos parade that was happening in Buñol. A small vegetable stand was close by and the men began to throw the tomatoes. The commotion was witnessed by the entire town and so it continued the following year, with more participants joining in. Only in 1950 did the event actually become legal, and it has occurred every year since then, now drawing record numbers from all over Spain and the rest of the world; last year’s event brought over 40,000 people to Buñol.

La Tomatina Credit@Dee McEvoy via flickr.com

La Tomatina Credit@Dee McEvoy via flickr.com

At 10am on the day of La Tomatina locals and tourists alike will meet at Plaza del Pueblo where truck loads of tomatoes will be brought in. The beginning of the event is signaled with a cannon and from then an hour of excitement and drama ensues. The participants will move out of the plaza and into the streets, where everything from the floors, windows, the high facades, the buildings, and of course the people are all dyed with red. The scene is quite fantastic; it is an explosion of colour and joy, with children from the local schools, the neighbours from across the street, and not to mention the thousands of visitors all coming together to take part. The second shot from the cannon around an hour after the first comes too soon for the participants, as it marks the end of La Tomatina, and the beginning of the big clean up. After the water cannons have sprayed the last of the tomato away, the small town of Buñol returns back to normality for another year.

What exciting traditions have you experienced on your travels?

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