It's very likely that you have seen images on TV or picture of people and the streets of a Spanish town covered in tomato. It's not a scene of a movie filmed in an exotic location, in fact in happens every year. La fiesta de la Tomatina, or tomato party takes places once a year in a northern Spanish town called Buñol in Valencia, since 1945. Why and how did it begin?
Tomatina's origins are not so certain and there are contending versions. One of them says that there was a really bad musician who used to play in the town square. The locals, fed up of him, took some tomatoes from a green grocers that was nearby and threw them at him. The story goes that not every one hit the mark but someone else's head, and somehow that derived into a tomato war.
The other theory tells of a few young men who tried to mix up in the town's religious procession and one of the men who were in the procession ended up on the floor. When he got up he started throwing punches all around and his neighbors took some tomatoes to throw at him in self defense.
Whichever is true , the important fact is that tomatina was so fun that they decided to repeat the experience the next year. Of course the police tried to stop them and when they couldn't, they forced them to pay for damages. In those years Spain was under Franco's dictatorship and whoever broke the public order could be severely punished.
In 1950 Buñol's mayor forbid this celebration, as he considered that it was offensive to the honor of the country and morality. But that didn't stop them, on the appointed day the town's people (not everyone of course) began once again throwing tomatoes to each other. The police arrested a large number of them. The others began protesting (peacefully) and demanding the police release them.
Finally tomatina was allowed, under certain conditions, but the people who participated got a little too enthusiastic about it; a few of them started throwing water as well as tomatoes and some got thrown in the fountain. But the straw that broke the camel's back was that some authorities were hit by tomatoes in the face or the immaculate suits got tomato stains. So the party was forbidden once again.
In 1959 the tomatina took place again. A few years later Francisco Franco died and Spain began to open up to tourism. Some towns released bulls in the streets and others threw goats from the town's bell tower (this doesn't happen anymore). Buñol had it's tomato war party and it's fame spread throughout the world. The politicians decided to have some of the spotlight and supplied more tomatoes, making the party a massive event. For example, many Spanish schools in Spain propose excursions to Buñol for students willing to join the red fun!
Today, the Tomatina event starts at 10am in the morning with the first event called 'el palo jabón' which is effectively a greasy pole. At the top of the pole is a Spanish ham. People attempt to climb the pole, and when someone reaches the top and jumps down with the ham, the party really begins.
The signal to start comes at 11am when a number of large lorries drive into the square, loaded with tomatoes. People on the back of the lorries then beginning throwing the tomatoes to the people below and the fight begins. The tomatoes must be squashed before they are thrown in order to prevent injury. After exactly one hour, the signal to stop is given, leaving the square, and all the people and buildings in it, covered in tomato. Trucks come in and wash down the people and the buildings with hoses. Fortunately, due to the acidic qualities of the tomatoes, the building and streets actually come out sparkling!
You can also check out the tomatina's official website, most of it is in Spanish. Nowadays, thousands of people, as many as 40,000 flock to Buñol to participate in this tomato war, where as many as 115 tons of tomatoes are thrown. Tomatina takes place in the last Wednesday of August every year.