Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling Festival of Edirne

The Edirne Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling Festival, which is held every July, attracts the whole world. In recent years, tourists from many countries have flocked to Turkey to watch this festival. Kırkpınar Wrestling, which is described as oily wrestling, is both a sporting and cultural activity that takes place on a meadow by lubricated wrestlers who show very intense effort. Historical Kırkpınar wrestling has been carrying important cultural values with its emergence as well as its execution.

Legend of Kırkpınar

The history of Kırkpınar wrestling dates back to 1357. Accepted as one of the oldest sport events in the world, the advent of oil wrestling is a historic event. Orhan Gazi organized expeditions to conquer Rumeli. In one of these expeditions, when Orhan Gazi’s son Süleyman Pasha seized Edirne for a temporary period, he explored the surroundings. The pioneer unit that accompanied him during the discovery took a break in the Samona region, which is within the territory of Greece. The soldiers got bored there and started to wrestle. Two wise brothers, Ali and Selim, could not beat each other during wrestling. Then the team came to the vicinity of Aliköy. Here, Ali and Selim started again to wrestle. Despite wrestling until evening time, they were still unbeaten. The two brothers were exhausted and died here.

The year after this event, the friends of the brothers came to the same region and saw springs from where they buried the brothers. Upon this event, that region was named Kırkpınar (it means forty springs in English), and thus the tradition of Kırkpınar oil wrestling began.

Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling Festival of Edirne
A wrestler takes control over his opponent during competition at the Kirkpinar Turkish Oil Wrestling Festival in Edirne in Turkey.

Kırkpınar Wrestling in the Republic Period

Kırkpınar Wrestling, which had been practiced in the village of Samona, Greece, shifted to different geographical regions as we lost land during the Balkan Wars and the First World War. Kırkpınar Wrestling continues to be held in Edirne Viran Tekke, which is located in the Thrace Region right next to Greece. After the declaration of the Republic, wrestling was held in Edirne Sarayiçi for a while. Until 1946, the Child Protection Agency and the Red Crescent took the revenues as donation from Kırkpınar wrestling. From 1946 onwards up to now, wrestling has been organized by the Edirne Municipality, and the Sarayiçi has been designated as a field of contest.

Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling Festival of Edirne
In Kırkpınar wrestling, there are names for the various moves that are used.

Kırkpınar Custom

One of the most important features of Kırkpınar wrestling is Kırkpınar Ağası (Lord). Kırkpınar Ağası is actually the organizer of wrestling. Kırkpınar Ağası is the one who calls the wrestlers for the wrestling, organizes the competition square, passes all kinds of options in the field of contest, welcomes all the guests, and determines the food and accommodation. Being Ağa starts with the sale of a ram at an auction. Since the wrestling is usually held in Hıdırellez time, Ağa performs the whole organization one month before. He also helps to open stands for shopkeepers and sellers in the field during the week before the event.

In Kırkpınar wrestling, the champion is awarded the title of “chief wrestler“. If the same wrestler has been a champion for over three years, he really owns the symbolic golden belt given to him. In traditional wrestling, other wrestlers are given prizes such as an ox, ram, calf, lamb, and horse.

Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling Festival of Edirne
Wrestler getting ready before competition in traditional Kirkpinar wrestling. Kirkpinar is a Turkish oil-wrestling (Turkish yagli gures) tournament.

The announcers who undertake the tasks of today’s presenters are indispensable for wrestling. The person who introduces all the wrestlers to the audience and starts the wrestling with the famous statement “Do not worry as you are below, do not be pleased as you are above!” is the announcer.

Among the procedures in wrestling, lubrication especially attracts everyone’s attention. In standard wrestling, the athletes can easily grasp each other and lay down on each other. In order to make Kırkpınar wrestling more difficult, all the bodies of the wrestlers are lubricated by boilers filled with oil and water in the field of contest. In greasy wrestling, wrestlers wear clothes that we call kispet (wrestler’s tights). The kispet, which is usually made of buffalo or calfskin, is a black wrestler’s garment with a hardened waist, and a four-fingers-wide, thick rope.

Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling Festival of Edirne
Wrestler getting ready before competition in traditional Kirkpinar wrestling. Kirkpinar is a Turkish oil-wrestling (Turkish yagli gures) tournament.

Since wrestling is very intense, it is absolutely necessary for sportsmen to warm up. The wrestlers warm up by placing their hands on each other and walking in a rhythmic way in the field of contest before wrestling. This is called Peşrev. The rhythm along with the instruments such as zurna and drums are created during the peşrev to create a match atmosphere. In the classic style of the peşrev, the wrestler goes back and forth three times and then falls on the left knee and touches his right hand first, then the knee, later the lip, and then his forehead for three times (Temenna).

In Kırkpınar wrestling, there are names for the various moves that are used. The pull down is the most popular of these and is now used as an idiom. There are over 30 different game styles, such as tırpan, kemane, and kolbasti.

Unforgettable Wrestler Kel Aliço

Kırkpınar Wrestling is not the type of wrestling that is won with points. It is absolutely necessary to  pin or lift an opponent in order to win. Kel Aliço is a legendary wrestler whose title has not been taken as chief wrestler for 26 years. He was given a title of Gaddar (no-mercy).