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Spain's Tomato Festival Shrinks, As Town Pares Crowd Size

The Tomatina Festival, the famous free-for-all in which partiers pelt one another with ripe tomatoes, was held in Bunol, Spain, Wednesday. The big party that has become an international sensation in recent years was smaller than usual in 2013 — for the first time, the town sold a limited number of tickets for 10 euros (about $13.25) to indulge in the huge food fight.

Some 20,000 people came to this year's festival, which featured 130 tons of tomatoes. That figure was about half of last year's reported crowd, due to the town's efforts to cut the size of the mob that invades it each summer. On normal days, Bunol has a population of about 9,000.

In addition to safety concerns that would come with cramming 50,000 excited, tomato-throwing strangers into its streets, Bunol is also trying to tame its debt, its mayor tells European news site The Local. Despite the ticket policy, the festival drew visitors from far outside Spain.

"Among the top ticket buyers were Australians with 19.2 percent of the total, Japanese with 17.9 percent, Britons with 11.2 percent, Spaniards with 7.8 percent and Americans with 7.5 percent," the site adds.

If you plan to attend La Tomatina next year, it's always held on the last Wednesday of August. And it does have some rules, including the requirement that any tomato be squashed a bit before it's hurled at another person. The battle lasts for one hour.

While they're the star attraction, tomatoes aren't the only food featured at the festival.

"Do not miss the Palojabón – a soap-covered pole with a Spanish ham at the top," the organizer's website says. "Whoever can climb the pole and get the ham can keep it!"

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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