Kirkpinar Oil Wresting Festival

20:09 Alyson Tart 0 Comments

Back before we even moved to Turkey, I had read about the oil wresting festivals and decided I wanted to go.

Not because I wanted to see men rubbed down in oil. Not because I wanted to go to Edirne (although that desire changed after moving to Istanbul). Not even because I like wrestling.

The fun in it to me was the absurdity of it.  Men wrestling in olive oil. So weird.

This weekend was my chance to go. It was the 651st Annual Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival, meaning that they have been doing this continuously since 1361. Paul's aunts and cousin were in town and it was the perfect chance to show them something unique to Turkey. We rented the car, bought the tickets, re-bought the tickets once we lost them and finally made it into the stadium.

It wasn't what I expected, to be honest. I think the excitement for most spectators comes from supporting your city or region's wrestlers, whom you cheer on throughout the day. There were 20 matches going on at a time. Without having a wrestler to support, it was almost sensory overload. There was always a match to watch, always something happening and always a bit of confusion on our end at the rules of it all.

Men waiting to be a part of the competition watching the many
groups currently wrestling. Since we went on Saturday we
missed the championship and presentation of the golden belt
What most struck me though was the history and tradition of the whole spectacle. While nothing is incredibly interesting to a casual observer about the wrestling itself, it is amazing to think that 651 years ago, men were doing almost exactly the same thing. Wrestling each other, lathered up in olive oil and their buffalo leather pants, in the grass, with the band playing in the background and spectators cheering them on.  Today, it still has the feeling of a county fair with local booths set up outside, men hanging out drinking tea and chatting.

Men getting oiled up for the matches.
They use only local olive oil
We were fortunate enough to run into one of the (hundreds) of wrestlers over dinner in Edirne. We got a lot of our questions answered about the rules and background of the festival, which made it even more intriguing. Children start training for this around age 7. If you become good enough, you are sponsored by the city and it basically becomes your job. You train the whole year leading up to this and then it could be over in 5 minutes. Needless to say, emotions run high, and you can see the disappointment in many men who are on the losing side of the match.

After dinner, I had one required stop to make before heading out of Edirne. After visiting a lot of mosques in Istanbul, I have become fascinated with the story of Mimar Sinan. He was one of the most prolific builders under Süleyman the Magnificent and built or supervised the construction of more than 475 buildings. The Selimiye Mosque in Edirne is said to be his masterpiece. All you can do upon entering is stare up - such beatiful domes and so many little nooks and crannies in the ceiling with wonderful paintings.

Curious to check out the wrestling festival? It's an easy and beautiful two hour drive from Istanbul. Find dates and more information here.

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