Spain’s crazy fiestas boom after tomato fight’s success

Spain's Tomatina festival, dubbed "the world's biggest food fight", has given the small town of Buñol a huge economic boost – and now other Spanish towns with quirky fiestas are seeking to mimic its success.

Spain's crazy fiestas boom after tomato fight's success
The Tomatina festival in Bunol has spawned copycats around Spain and beyond. Photo: Bien Alino/AFP

At the annual Tomatina fiesta on Wednesday 160 tonnes of ripe tomatoes were offloaded from trucks into a crowd of over 22,000 half-naked revellers who packed the streets of Buñol for an hour-long battle.

Locals and visitors pelted each other with tomatoes, leaving the streets of the eastern town which is home to just 10,000 people awash with red pulp.

The Tomatina started in 1945 when local youths brawling in the street seized tomatoes and other produce from a greengrocer's stall and let loose.

Cash-strapped local authorities in 2013 began charging an entry fee and hired a private company to sell tickets.

The colourful event has been featured in several movies, such as the 2014 British romantic comedy “Walking on Sunshine” and the 2011 Indian road movie “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara”, as well as in television ads for global brands.

“It's an honour but also a great responsibility because everyone has their eyes fixed on us,” said Buñol mayor Rafael Perez.

Export product

Buñol registered the festival as a brand in 2002. As a result the village collects rights from firms that have used the Tomatina for its adverts, such as South Korean tech giant Samsung and Australian travel insurance provider Cover Moore.

Each film shooting generates around 300,000 euros ($335,000) for the town from the rights, as well as from providing housing and food for the visiting film crews, according to the official web page of the Tomatina.

Buñol city hall cooperates with other cities which want to hold its own version of the Tomatina for free because it provides publicity for the town and its festival, said Perez.

“At the end of the day what everyone wants is to go to the original version, which is ours, so it is to our advantage,” he added.

Versions of the Tomatina have been held annually or as one-off events in Colombia, Chile, Cuba, India, South Korea and the United States.

“We always try to cooperate with anyone who wants, so that the image of the Tomatina is reinforced abroad,” said Perez.

Giant ball and wine

Other Spanish towns with unusual festivals are seeking to copy Buñol's success.

The tiny town of Mataelpino near Madrid registered its annual fiesta, dubbed the “Boloencierro”, which involves pitting daredevils against a giant 200-kilo (440-pound) polystyrene ball as it gathers steam heading downhill towards the village bullring.

The ball – three metres in diameter – has since 2010 replaced bulls used in a traditional bull run in which daredevils raced ahead of a pack of half-tonne fighting bulls along a similar route. The risk is real – the ball has injured several participants.

The switch was motivated by Spain's economic downturn which forced towns like Mataelpino to cut costs on its annual festivals and it has proven popular.

The town holds the “Boloencierro”, a combination of the Spanish words for “ball” and “bull run”, every August.

Mirroring the example of Buñol, Mataelpino is helping six other Spanish towns to hold their own versions of the Boloencierro this year. The goal is to draw more visitors to its own event.

“The municipality is trying to use this festival as a tourist draw,” said Mataelpino mayor Javier de los Nietos.

The town of Haro in the northern La Rioja wine-making region began the process this year to have its annual “wine fight” declared a “Festival of International Interest.”

The event sees thousands of locals and tourists celebrate St Peter's day in June by throwing thousands of litres of wine at each other, with buckets, wineskins or water pistols.

By Diego Urdaneta


The fiestas that definitely won’t happen in Spain this year

Pamplona’s famous running of the bulls festival has been cancelled for the second year running, joining a long list of events across Spain that have become casualties of the coronavirus pandemic.

The fiestas that definitely won’t happen in Spain this year
San Fermin is cancelled for the second year. Photos: AFP

“An international festival like San Fermin, in which millions of people come to Navarra, just won’t be possible,” said regional premier Maria Chivite on Tuesday in an announcement that came as a surprise to no-one.

The ten-day festival takes place each year from July 6thand has gained global fame after Ernest Hemingway wrote about it in his 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises”.

Last year’s cancellation was the first in over four decades – it was cancelled in 1978 after a student was shot when pro-Eta protests turned violent and was suspended midway in 1997 again over tensions with Eta supporters – but the last time Pamplona did not celebrate San Fermin two years in a row was during the civil war in the 1930s.

However, it is not the only celebration to be called off in 2021 and is unlikely to be the last cancellation of the summer.

Las Fallas

A fallas figure from 2021 complete with face mask. Photo: AFP

So far, Valencia authorities have announced Las Fallas, the first big festival of the year will not take place this year.

Usually celebrated between March 15 and 19 in the Mediterranean coastal city, teams work year round to produce elaborate paper mâché models that are displayed before being set alight in a fiery finale accompanied by fire works.

Estimates put the economic impact of the cancellation of Las Fallas at around half a billion euros.

Semana Santa

Easter crowds like this won't be allowed. Photo: AFP


It seems very unlikely that Easter will be allowed to be celebrated in the usual way in Spain. Seville and Malaga which are both famous for the processions held during Semana Santa have already announced that they won’t be taking place this year.

Feria de Abril

Seville took the decision back in December to announce that its April fair wouldn’t be going ahead in 2021.

The spring festival that sees residents dress in traditional Andalusian attire and gather in casetas to dance, eat and drink usually takes place in April.

Trade fairs

Barcelona has postponed its Mobile World Congress, a huge tech event that usually takes place in March and hopes to hold it between June 28 and July 1 instead.

Likewise, Madrid has delayed its tourism trade fair Fitur, moving the event from the end of January to the week of May 19-23.

The Art fair Arco will also be shifted until July 7-11 and Madrid Fashion Week delayed from the end of January to April 8th.

READ MORE:  How likely is it that we can travel in Spain at Easter?