La Tomatina, the world’s largest tomato-throwing festival, begins Wednesday as up to 22,000 revelers are expected to meet up in the tiny Valencian town of Buñol on the east coast of Spain. This year takes on added significance as it marks the 70th anniversary since the wacky festival first came to... fruition.
There isn’t a definitive history of how the event got started. Some believe it happened when two boys got into a fight during a parade and began lobbing tomatoes from a vegetable stand at each other. Others believe the tomatoes were thrown to protest an unfavorable decision by the city council or launched at a particularly bad musician. What the storytellers in the quaint Spanish town of 10,000 all agree on, though, is that the annual act of throwing tomatoes at one another for fun began in 1945 on the last Wednesday in August.
While there was no official event until years later, people from the town decided to meet annually, bringing their own tomatoes to the fight. Over the years, however, police and local leaders attempted to have the whole event canned, upset with the waste of food and the mess it made.
During the peak of the dictatorship of Francisco Franco in the 1960s, La Tomatina was banned as it had no religious significance. But after Franco’s death in 1975, San Luis Bertran, the local patron of the town, began organizing the event and even supplied the tomatoes for locals to throw. It wasn’t until 1980 that the local council took control of the event, and the modern La Tomatina festival was born.
In 2002, the event was declared an official festival by the Spanish Department of Tourism because of its overwhelming success.
The event, which starts at 11 a.m. local time and uses around 150,000 tomatoes, cannot begin until a participant climbs up a greasy pole in the town square and retrieves a ham attached to the top. Once the ham is down, the throwing can begin. Since 2013, a fee of $12 is charged to take part in the event. Participation capacity has been reduced from 50,000 to around 22,000 for safety reasons.