(AFP) – Tens of thousands of revellers hurled 120 tonnes of squashed tomatoes at each other Wednesday, drenching the streets in red in a gigantic Spanish food fight known as the Tomatina.
A sea of more than 40,000 alcohol-soaked men and women packed into the Plaza Mayor square of Bunol, eastern Spain, many with their shirts off and wearing swimming goggles to keep out the stinging juice.
Spectators peered over the balconies of surrounding buildings, some also chucking tomatoes on chanting, dancing food-fighters below, who covered the square like a carpet.
Five trucks loaded with the tomatoes struggled to find space in the human tomato soup to enter the square.
But as they unloaded the edible ammunition, the square and surrounding streets were suddenly awash in a sea of tomato sauce, covering the crowds of festival goers.
“I can’t throw fast enough. This is crazy. It’s my third year,” said one battler, Angel, as he pelted others with tomatoes, which must be squashed before being chucked so as to minimise the pain.
“It is a battle of crazy people, who get on together, and no injuries,” said another, Nestor, who after being slathered in tomato in previous years chose to watch from balcony, spraying others with a water hose.
Many wore yellow T-shirts enscribed “Fanatic of the Tomatina”.
“Long live the Tomatina! cried one Japanese tourist wrapped in a scarf decorated with a huge tomato picture, alongside a friend who protected himself with a tomato-shaped helmet.
The Tomatina is held each year in Bunol, in the heart of a fertile region some 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of the coastal city of Valencia, Spain’s third-largest city, on the last Wednesday in August.
The town says it expects the fight to bring in 300,000 euros ($380,000) to the local economy, a welcome financial boost as the country suffers from a recession and a jobless rate of nearly 25 percent.
“We don’t have much space but there is no other way,” said Rafael Perez, spokesman for the town of 10,000 inhabitants.
“It’s been here since 1945.”
Though the origins of the event are unclear, it 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, with tourists flocking in this year from Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India.
After the fight, many of the revellers head to the local river to wash off the pulp.
This year, six special trains offering 29,000 seats were laid on for the Tomatina, along with camping grounds for the tourist influx.