Spanish streets run red with tomatoes

2011-08-31 17:00

Bunol - Tens of thousands of revellers splattered each other with 120 tons of squashed tomatoes on Wednesday in a gigantic annual food fight known in Spain as the Tomatina.

The streets ran red with slippery juice as nearly 40 000 people, many stripped to the waist and drunk with sangria, pelted each other in the Plaza Mayor square and nearby streets of Bunol, eastern Spain.

Five trucks unloaded the ammunition on participants from around the world, including tourists from the United States, Japan and India, before the battle commenced.

As the one-hour melee began, the town of 10 000 inhabitants looked like a war zone awash in tomato sauce.

Despite the wanton destruction of the red fruit, the festival turns a good profit for Bunol, said town hall spokesperson Rafael Perez.

The town spends $144 000 on the party including $43 000 on the tomatoes, he said.

But the money spent by tourists in the town before and after the festivities more than makes up for it, he said.

The rules of battle are strict.

Revellers must crush the tomatoes before throwing them to lessen the impact, wear old clothes that can be thrown away, and put on old tennis shoes rather than sandals, "which can get lost in the juice," organisers say.

They are also advised to wear swimming goggles, "because the acidity of the tomatoes stings the eyes".

About 200 police were on hand in case of incidents.

The "Tomatina" is held each year in Bunol, located in a fertile region about 40km north of the coastal city of Valencia, Spain's third-largest city, on the last Wednesday in August.

The event is thought to have its roots in a food fight between childhood friends in the mid-1940s in the city.

It has grown in size as international press coverage brought more and more people to the festival.