The Kirkpinar Oiled Wrestling Festival is in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest running sporting competition – and it’s little wonder considering it has been around since 1357! Oiled wrestling is one of Turkey’s most popular sports in which the participants, with their tight leather trousers, smother themselves in olive oil and then grapple for sometimes as long as forty minutes. The Kirkpinar Festival – the most famous and important tournament in the country – takes place annually for seven days at the end of June and beginning of July in the historic city of Edirne, 150 miles west of Istanbul, near the borders with Greece and Bulgaria. Kirkpinar is the name of an island between the Meric and Tumar river.
The event, held in a large stadium at the field known as Sarayiçi Er Meydani, commemorates a bout in which two Ottoman warriors fought to the death. During their ‘breaks’ between raids on neighbouring Rumelia, the men wrestled to keep themselves active. Apparently, two of them were so determined not to give ground that they, literally, fought until they dropped. The graves of these two wrestlers, Adali Halil and Kara Emin, are visited for a memorial service before each year’s festival begins.
Over 1,000 participants come to Kirkpinar each year to wrestle in the various categories and the prizes for winning are quite substantial – as much as $100,000 US for the overall Champion of Turkey.
Previously only of real interest to the Turkish, oiled wrestling has developed somewhat during the last twenty years. There are now similar events in Holland and Japan each year. The festival has always attracted the interest of gypsies from Eastern Europe and the Middle East, resulting in a colorful fair springing up outsdie the arena. This has now become more organised with much traditional music, belly dancing and entertainment taking place into the early hours of the morning. This is also a winderful opportunity of tasting authentic Turkish cooking – especially the succulent roast lamb.
Although still very much a national event – and with a uniquely Turkish atmosphere – locals are now more accustomed to seeing foreign visitors joining the thousands attending. The standard of hotel accommodation in the city has also improved considerably in the last few years – details can be found at www.edirne.turkeyhotelstours.com .
Although formerly the capital of the Ottoman Empire, the population of the city is only about 130,000 but is is one of Turkey’s most beautiful places. The Selimiye Mosque, with the highest minarets in the country, is truly spectacular and it is a spectacular location. Additionally, there are very impressive palaces, houses and bridges across the River Meric.
Trains from Europe to Istanbul often stop at the station here and there are daily trains from Istanbul’s Sirkeci Station, with a journey time of up to four hours. Frequent buses, which are generally quicker, arrive at the bus station just outside of the town, from where there are free shuttles into Edirne.
Turkey is a fascinating country and Edirne one of its lesser known delights. It would certainly be interesting to pay a visit at the end of June to coincide with the incredible spectacle of the Kirkpinar Oiled Wrestling Festival