The week-long festival features music, parades, dancing, and fireworks. On the night before the tomato fight, participants of the festival compete in a paella cooking contest. It is tradition for the women to wear all white and the men to wear no shirts. This festival started in a casual way in 1945, but wasn’t officially recognized until 1952.
Approximately 20,000-50,000 tourists come to the tomato fight, multiplying by several times Buñol’s normal population of slightly over 9,000. There is limited accommodation for people who come to La Tomatina, and thus many participants stay in Valencia and travel by bus or train to Buñol, about 38 km outside the city. In preparation for the dirty mess that will ensue, shopkeepers use huge plastic covers on their storefronts in order to protect them.
At around 10 a.m., the first event of the Tomatina begins. The first feat is for the crowd to figure out how to get someone to climb up a greased pole with a ham at the top. Whilst this is happening, the group works up a frenzy singing and dancing whilst being showered from hoses. Once someone is able to release the ham from the pole, several trucks haul the bounty of tomatoes into the center of the town, Plaza del Pueblo.
The tomatoes come from Extremadura, where they are less expensive and are grown specifically for the festival as they are not of good taste for consumption. The signal for the beginning of the fight is firing of water cannons, and the chaos begins. Once it begins, the battle is generally every man for himself. Those who partake in this event are strongly encouraged to wear protective safety goggles and gloves. In addition, they must squish the tomatoes before throwing for safety precautions. Another targets of tomatoes as well, including any cameras happening to cover the event. After exactly one hour, the fighting ends when the water cannons are fired once more to signal the end. At this point, no more tomatoes can be thrown. The cleaning process involves the use of fire trucks to spray down the streets, with water provided from a Roman aqueduct. The authorities seem more concerned with cleaning the town than cleaning the visitors, so some people find water at the Buñol River to wash themselves, although some kind residents will hose passers-by down. Once the tomato pulp is flushed, the ground is clean due to the acidity of the tomato.