18 Nov Turkish Festivals Where Combat Takes Centre Stage
What’s not to love about Turkey. From the sheer size of Istanbul, her stunning setting straddling the Bosphorus, to the majesty of her mosques and the lure of her bustling bazaars. From the eerie silence of the World War I battlegrounds at Gallipoli, to the wonder of the cave houses of Cappadocia and the natural beauty of her white-sand Mediterranean beaches. And don’t start me on her food (especially any meat left basting in its own juices). Visiting Turkey is a must for those wishing to escape the humdrum of a typical package tour holiday.
Today all that beauty can take a back-seat as I cast an eye over a couple of rather brutal yet culturally significant Turkish festivals.
Camel Wrestling Festival
For camel wrestling aficionados there’s only one place to be come January; an ancient stadium at Ephesus, near the town of Selçuk, (which is near the city of İzmir) in the country’s east.
Following a ceremony not without pomp, ornately decorated camels are paraded through town to the musical strains of Turkish folk.
The following day the wrestling action begins. Amidst a shower of mouth foam, two male camels (bulls) battle it out for the affections of a strategically placed female. It’s not half as nasty as it sounds but its probably a lot more tactical than you’d think.
Victory is achieved through a combination of leaning, tripping and butting. The winner is decided when a bull retreats, screams or falls or when the camel owner concedes, by throwing a rope into the ring.
Now it’s not common knowledge but a retreating camel has been known to spray urine like a four year old boy on a red-cordial bender, so pack that rain jacket kids. Word on the street is that camel urine packs a pungent punch and has been known to linger.
Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival
For those looking for a Turkish wrestling event with a little more strategy and a touch less flying mouth foam, perhaps the Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival is more your thing?
Every summer since 1640 the city of Edirne, in the country’s Northwest, has played host to thousands of visitors who travel from far and wide to watch a selection of pehlivan (wrestlers) don their kispet (thick trousers made of water buffalo or cow leather), get olive-oiled up and get down to business.
It’s a form of wrestling that dates back to the mid-14th century and despite the obvious comical connotations it’s a deadly serious business.
The Kirkpinar Aga (the festival’s patron) kicks off ceremonies before the golden belt is carried through the city in a procession. A forty band cacophony of davul drums and zurna shawms provides the sound-track.
Back in the appropriately named, Mens Field, a master of ceremonies introduces the combatants to the crowd reciting in verse their names, titles and skills.
The pehlivan then receive a generous dousing of olive oil from an oil man and his assistant towel holder before partaking in a range of warm-up exercises and the customary pehlivan greetings.
Then the slippery action begins.
Only one will earn the right to wear the Kirkpinar Golden Belt and carry the title of Chief Pehlivan. A huge honour in Turkish society.