Feria de Malaga and La Tomatina are the two main events which take place in Spain during August. Each of the festivals is distinctly different from the other and offers a unique experience, so if you’ve only got the opportunity to visit one, make sure you do your research beforehand to ensure you make the right choice.
Brief History of Feria de Malaga
The Feria de Malaga – commonly referred to as the “August Fair” in English – dates all the way back to the 15th century. On August 18th in 1487, the Catholic Kings reclaimed Malaga which had been under Muslim rein for almost eight centuries. Following the re-conquering of the city, the Malaga City Council was put together which decide a special day should be set aside in celebration of this great feat.
Dedicated to the Virgin Victoria – the new Patron Saint of the city – the first ever Feria de Malaga was celebrated on August 15th 1491 and coincided with the Assumption of Mary festival. In an effort to combine both festivals, the Feria de Malaga featured a street procession in which a statue of the Virgin Mary was carried across the city from the cathedral to Santiago Church.
The following year, the date of the Feria de Malaga was switched to August 18th to correspond with the actual day the re-conquering took place. This time a bullfighting event was added to the event list. This added activity marked the beginning of a huge number of additions which would follow in later years. By the 18th century, the Feria de Malaga boasted firework displays, firecrackers and live entertainment, as well as the traditional bullfighting and statue procession.
In 1887 on the 400th anniversary of Malaga’s recapturing under the Christian army, one of the biggest celebrations to date took place. Recorded in various historical documents, the long list of activities and events included the traditional street procession, in addition to a live reenactment of the point when the Christians entered Malaga and reclaimed it. Various races, flower displays and music concerts were also held throughout the city, on top of the bull fighting events which accompany almost every traditional festival in Spain.
Feria de Malaga Overview
Today, the Feria de Malaga is celebrated in the Cortijo de Torres part of Malaga, where the Palacios de Ferias and Congresos de Malaga buildings stand, although it has sometimes overflowed into Muelle de la Heredia and Teatinos areas over the years.
The highly-anticipated festival takes place around the second week in August each year – August 9th to August 16th in 2014 – and is made up of seven lively days packed full of street parties, flamenco dancing and plenty of local sherry drinking. Each day is comprised of a different line-up of events, providing something for everyone to enjoy and take part in.
Feria de Malaga Highlights
Opening Firework Display
The Feria de Malaga kicks off with a firework display on the first evening of the festival. The Spanish are internationally renowned for exemplary firework displays and this one will certainly not disappoint.
Although the fireworks are set off from the city’s park, the best place to truly admire them is from the port. If you’re visiting Malaga as part of a cruise, you’ll be in the ideal location, otherwise, see if you can sign up for a corresponding boat trip or hire a boat yourself if you feel like splashing out.
Dancing in the Streets
The next day, the local señores and señoritas take to the streets to dance, drink and be merry. Make sure you have your camera at hand because you’ll be surrounded by traditionally-attired men decked out in Spanish suits and hats accompanied by beautiful women dressed in bright red Flamenco dresses covered in white polka dots.
The traditional Andalusian style of Flamenco is known locally as “Sevillanas”. Made up of four separate dances, Sevillanas is known for its finger clicking, feet stomping and genuine passion which is sure to bring a smile to everyone’s face – even those with two left feet. As always, Spanish fiestas are much more fun when you join in, so grab a partner and get dancing!
Around 9pm every evening, the daytime street entertainment gives way to the family-friendly fairground which provides hours of fun. This funfair is located in Marques de Larios street and is made up of numerous “casetas” (large booths) where you can sip sherry and gorge on tapas whilst watching professional Flamenco dancers show off their moves.
Wander away from the village of casetas and you’ll find yourself face-to-face with a gaudy, yet somehow entrancing funfair, full of multicolored twinkling lights, soaring roller-coasters, deafening music and even louder kids. Despite being somewhat of an assault on the senses, the fairground is a must-visit and is all part of the traditional Feria de Malaga.
Brief History of La Tomatina
The definitive origins of the La Tomatina festival are unclear, but it’s widely believed to have started on the last Wednesday in August, 1945. On this day, a group of young boys were said to be waiting for the Giant and Big Head parade to begin and in typical “boys will be boys” fashion, began a tomato fight to pass the time. A few of the tomatoes flew further than intended and hit numerous passersby in the process.
Not being the types to simply be covered in tomato juice by local hooligans and walk on, these passersby grabbed some of the tomatoes and hauled them back at the young boys. As more and more people got dragged into the food fight, the fun and frivolity grew. So much so that the food fight became an annual event and continued to grow bigger and bigger each and every year.
In an effort to attract more visitors to the festival and increase the town’s exposure, La Tomatina blossomed into a fully-fledged fiesta which coincides with the day of the town’s Patron Saint.
La Tomatina Overview
La Tomatina is celebrated in Buñol, a city just outside Valencia, each year on the last Wednesday of August – August 27th in 2014. The actual day of the food fight is preceded by a week brimming with street parades, firework displays, open-air parties and plenty of opportunities to sample the local food and drink.
Every year thousands upon thousands of visitors travel from all corners of the globe to experience the festival for themselves and find out just how extraordinary the event actually is. During each food fight, more than 100 tons of over-ripe tomatoes are pelted throughout the streets, making it a festival unlike any other.
Before 2013, anywhere between 40,000 and 50,000 people pack themselves into the city’s main square for the internationally-acclaimed food fight, considerably expanding Buñol’s ordinary 9,000 person population. From 2013 onwards, visitors have been made to pay €10 in order to purchase a ticket, limiting the event to a measly 20,000 people in comparison.
La Tomatina Highlights
Paella Cook Off
The night before the food fight, locals and visitors come together to enjoy tomatoes in a much different form – worlds away from the state they’ll be in the next day during the main La Tomatina event.
On this night, the winding, narrow streets overlooked by Buñol’s medieval bell tower are stocked to the brim with tasty, juicy tomatoes, which go into vast cauldron-like pans of simmering paella. So grab a glass of vino, a plateful of paella and prepare yourself for the immense battle that will commence tomorrow.
Opening Pole Climb
At 11am on the day of the food fight, the first official event of La Tomatina begins. At this time, all the trucks unload their pallets of tomatoes into Plaza del Pueblo in the centre of the town, whilst eager food fighters can do nothing more than anxiously look on and enhance the tense atmosphere.
Traditionally, the food fight cannot begin until some brave soul has clambered to the top of a greased two story-high pole and salvaged the coveted leg of ham stuck on the top. Since this feat is even more challenging than it sounds, the food fight often begins without the ham having been recovered at all.
This is what La Tomatina is all about – the infamous food fight. Powerful water cannon commemorate the beginning and the end of the tomato fight which lasts one hour in total. Those who want to take part in the main event are encouraged to wear goggles, old clothes and sturdy shoes because things are going to get messy.
Thousands of tomatoes are launched within the 60-minute food fight, covering anyone and everyone within the Plaza del Pueblo from head to toe in tomato flesh and juice. Other food fighters, truck drivers and onlookers alike become easy targets for the excited veggie throwers in what has become the biggest food fight in the world today. The second water cannon marks the end of the food fight, which means it’s time to put down the tomatoes and head to the local river to clean up.
La Tomatina After Party
The fun doesn’t stop with the second blast of the water cannon. In 2011, the tradition of the Official La Tomatina After Party began and still continues today. The party is held in Valencia and is attended by around 3,500 individuals, their blood pumping with adrenaline and exhilaration from the previous food fight. Combine the high spirits with buzzing dance music and cheap booze and you’ve got a party you’ll remember for the rest of your life. This year’s after party takes place on August 27th from 7pm until the early hours. You’ll need a ticket to get in, which you can pick up from the official website for only €15 – a small price to pay for what is sure to be one of the most amazing parties you’ve ever been to.
So whether you prefer the traditional sound of Flamenco music and delicately sipping glasses of sherry or would rather pelt your fellow food fighters with tons of tomatoes then dance until the sun rises, Spain offers you a fantastic choice when it comes to festivals this summer.