Image: Tomatina
Fernando Bustamante  /  AP
Revelers throw tomatoes at each other Wednesday during the annual food fight, the Tomatina, in the small town of Bunol, Spain.
updated 8/29/2007 6:26:25 PM ET 2007-08-29T22:26:25

Tens of thousands of warriors-for-a-day hurled tons of ripe tomatoes at each other Wednesday in an annual food fight that transforms this Spanish town into a sea of red mush.

At precisely 11:00 a.m. (5 a.m. ET), on the cue of a rocket fired from town hall, municipal trucks hauled 117 tons of plum tomatoes into the main square of Bunol and dumped them, setting the stage for exactly one hour of good-natured warfare.

“It has been great, excellent, crazy, fantastic,” said Alan Doyle, a 21-year-old Dubliner attending the festival called the Tomatina for the first time.

“It’s like a mosh pit in a rock concert; you just keep going,” he said. “The street was like a red river.”

At noon a second rocket shot up into the air, signaling it was time to cease hostilities. Bunol residents used garden hoses to spray down the tomato-tossers and the rest of the town.

The event has its roots in a food fight between childhood friends and has become something of a calling card for Bunol, which is 25 miles north of Valencia on Spain’s eastern coast.

World's largest food fight
The Tomatina, held each year on the last Wednesday in August, is said to be the world’s largest tomato fight.

The festival draws tens of thousands of revelers from around Spain and abroad, including from countries as far away as Japan, Australia and the United States. This year an estimated 40,000 people took part.

Doyle, who serves in the army in Ireland, learned about the festival while vacationing in Spain and did not want to miss it. “I recommend it to everyone who wants to have a great time,” he said. “I’ll definitely come back.”

There were no reports of injuries in this year’s fight, said city councilor Pilar Garrigues. She said participants receive a list of recommendations on how to fight without hurting anybody.

Lots of fighters take their red-soaked shirts off, and they are not supposed to throw them, just the fruit. Nor is it considered fair to throw tomatoes that are a bit on the green side because they’re harder. And the red ones? Squeeze them first, please, to ease the sting.

“People normally respect these basic rules. That’s why there are hardly any incidents,” Garrigues said.

Local legend claims the event began in the mid-1940s after a group of youngsters waged a food fight near a vegetable stand on the town square. They met again the next year and pelted each other — and passers-by — creating the annual tradition.

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