Updated: Feb 21
It is no secret that Spanish festivities tend to revolve around food, drink and gyration. The first two produced to a high standard and in great quantities, forming an important part of Spanish culture. One festival that embraces or rather, releases, these elements upon its attendees is La Tomatina, the annual tomato-based, food fight festival held in Valencia every August. Well, if you've heard of it or not, I'm here to tell you La Tomatina is the microwaved menu del dia of food flinging festivals, catering for tourists, the weak-kneed and their go-pro's. For authenticity and old fashioned good times, you must as always, head to 'the village.'
Tarazona is a small town to the North-West of Zaragoza, Aragon. On the 27th August every year the locals, dressed completely in white, except the blue scarf of the town, gather in the streets leading to the main square, a bag full of tomatoes in one hand, a large container of wine mixed with fruit, washing up liquid and petrol in the other (some ingredients may be fictional). The town itself is rather beautiful, located at the foot of the Moncayo mountain and natural park, any other time of year it's worth a day trip, if only to explore the quaint, old streets that wend their way around even older churches against a mountainous backdrop. The town is steeped in history, having been home to Christians, Jews and Muslims reflected in the architecture and prominent examples of the Mudéjar style,
especially in 'the quarter' where the borders of the different religious neighbourhoods met.
It was also the hometown of the comic actor Paco Martínez Soria, the town having appeared in several of his films. You can follow a free audio tour through the streets using wall placards containing QR codes, audio is provided in several languages.
Due to it's relative remoteness, if you're not going by car you must take the bus leaving from Zaragoza. There's usually a bus every hour, although this changes in the afternoon and evening, so plan ahead, a return will set you back 12euros. On the day of the festival four buses leave in tangent to accommodate travellers from Zaragoza, the journey takes an hour, I recommend the 08:00 bus as you can arrive in time for breakfast, grab a few bags of tomatoes and get a good spot before the square fills up. The next bus is at 10:00 which leaves little time before the event begins. I returned on the 18:00 bus, although I was repeatedly told in heightened, alcohol fuelled tones that I was missing 'the party.' However, I was covered in tomato pulp and wine and already filled my quota of experimental dance moves for the day, choose according to your stamina.
Why are people doing this?
Cipotegato is one of the oldest celebrations in Spain, documents in the Archivo de la Catedral de Tarazona referencing it as early as 1704, although it is believed it pre-dates this. One theory regarding its origin is that the King would pardon one prisoner during the celebrations of Saint Atilano, a Saint born in Tarazona. The prisoner would be deposited in the main square, holding a stick with a ball on the end to defend himself, if he could make it out of the town he was free to go. In those harsher medieval times, when it was only 35 degrees in the summer and 1 euro for a litre of sangria, people would throw stones in place of tomatoes. Considering Tarazona is a small town and those gathered may have been the prisoners victims or family of the victims, the event was less jovial and more brutal. The convict would be sheltered by his friends and family and forced through the crowds to safety, but would not always make it alive.
Nowadays, the EU has insisted that tomatoes have a smaller carbon footprint and the celebration has taken on a more inclusive, fun and alcoholic tone. The locals gather in the main square, warming up with a little flirtatious tomato flinging, to get the eye and arm ready. At midday the square bells chime, signalling the release of the 'Bufon' (prisoner or Cipotegato) to the cries of 'Cipote! Cipote!' A train of his friends and previous Bufon's push him through the streets as he is pelted with tomatoes and drenched with wine. When he makes it to the main square the skies turn red, a rain of wine based, tomato enriched pugilistic punishment blots out the sun. Unsuspecting tourists lose their phones, eyes and footing. Locals transcend into a jerking frenzy, launching tomatoes and wine in every possible direction. The Cipotegato is lifted onto the Cipotegato statue, which on any other day looks solemn and passive in the main square, on the day it becomes a throne of pulp, carnage and altar to solanaceae perversion.
After the bells have stopped chiming, the crowd roaring and tomatoes flying they release the Charanga (small brass band). The Charanga lead the dancing crowd down the small alleyways while locals throw buckets of water out their windows to cleanse the filthy masses, up goes the cry of 'Agua! Agua!' The Charanga lead the crowd to the bullring, where there is a foam party. People then splinter into bars, peñas and small squares where there are several stages playing music. This is the 'actual' party which goes on and on. I escaped at 18:00 feeling satisfied, but perhaps the Calimoxo, music, gyrating folk covered in tomato, foam and wine can convince you to stay. There is a very friendly and inclusive vibe to this celebration, the locals on hearing English bounce over wide-eyed at the opportunity to engage and share their passion for this beautiful little town. The best history, advice on where to go, wine and dancing can be found amongst the locals. A cheap and very enjoyable day, remember to wear your least favourite white clothing. Cipote! Cipote!
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