According to the most popular version of the history of La Tomatina, during the 1945 festival of Los Gigantes, locals were looking to stage a brawl to get some attention. They happened upon a vegetable cart nearby and started hurling ripe tomatoes. Innocent onlookers got involved until the scene escalated into a massive melee of flying fruit. The instigators had to repay the tomato vendors, but that didn't stop the recurrence of more tomato fights, hence, the birth of a new tradition.
Fearful of an unruly escalation, authorities enacted, relaxed, and then reinstated a series of bans in the 1950s. In 1951, locals who defied the law were imprisoned until public outcry called for their release. The most famous effrontery to the tomato bans happened in 1957 when proponents held a mock tomato funeral complete with a coffin and procession. After 1957, the local government decided to roll with the punches, set a few rules in place, and embraced the wacky tradition.
Though the tomatoes are the focus of La Tomatina, a week of festivities lead up to the final showdown. It's a celebration of Buñol's patron saints, the Virgin Mary and St. Louis Bertrand, with street parades, music, and fireworks in joyous Spanish fashion. To build up your strength for the impending brawl, an epic paella is served on the eve of the battle showcasing an iconic Valencian dish of rice, seafood, saffron and olive oil.
Today, this unfettered festival has been given measure of order. Organizers even cultivated a special variety of unpalatable tomatoes just for the annual event. Festivities kick off around 10am when participants race to grab a piece of jamon serrano, a local brand of ham, fixed atop a greasy pole. Onlookers hose the scramblers with water while singing and dancing in the streets. When the church bell strikes noon, trucks packed with tomatoes roll into town.
Then, at the sound of a rocket blast, the green light is given for crushing and launching tomatoes in all-out attacks against fellow participants, event goers and travelers. By the time it's over, you will look and feel quite different. Nearly an hour later, tomato-soaked bombers are left to play in a sea of squishy street salsa. A second rocket is shot to signal the end of the battle.
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