`654th Kirkpinar Coming to Edirne, Turkey - Olive Oil Times

654th Kirkpinar Coming to Edirne, Turkey

Jul. 1, 2015
Isabel Putinja

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The annual Kirkpinar oil wrestling fes­ti­val will open July 20 in Edirne, Turkey and con­tinue until the July 26 final round.

This oil wrestling com­pe­ti­tion is a tra­di­tion going back over 650 years and is said to be the world’s old­est annual sport­ing event. It is inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, where it is described as strongly rooted in the prac­ti­tioner com­mu­nity as a sym­bol of iden­tity and con­ti­nu­ity high­light­ing the virtues of gen­eros­ity and hon­esty and rein­forc­ing mem­bers’ bonds with tra­di­tion and cus­tom, thus con­tribut­ing to social cohe­sion and har­mony.”

This annual com­pe­ti­tion has over 1,000 wrestlers com­pet­ing for the Kirkpinar golden belt” and the title Baspehlivan” (chief wrestler). The wrestlers are stocky, well-built men of all ages, cul­tures and ori­gins who train pro­fes­sion­ally to com­pete in the event.

The pehli­vans wear long shorts made of buf­falo hide called kispet and cover them­selves in gen­er­ous amounts of olive oil before the bat­tle begins on a grassy field. Over 500 liters of olive oil are used dur­ing a tour­na­ment. The oiled skin of the com­peti­tors is slick and slip­pery, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to get a good grip on the oppo­nent. Thus the chal­lenge of this unique sport.

Last year, Fatih Atlı, from the Ladik dis­trict of Samsun, defeated defend­ing cham­pion Ismail Balaban to take home the cov­eted gold belt and the title of Başpehlivan.


The fes­ti­val is launched with much fan­fare, with 40 bands of drum­mers beat­ing a drum called a davul accom­pa­nied by musi­cians play­ing a wind instru­ment called a zurna, as the Kirkpinar Aga (the spon­sor or patron of the fes­ti­val) announces the start of pro­ceed­ings. The mas­ter of cer­e­monies intro­duces the pehli­vans to the audi­ence in a sing-song verse, recit­ing each wrestler’s name, title and skills, before a des­ig­nated per­son pours olive oil over each of the com­peti­tors.

Before the wrestlers bat­tle it out, they touch the earth using a rit­u­al­ized ges­ture sym­bol­iz­ing their ori­gin from the earth while at the same time receiv­ing its energy. They then acknowl­edge and greet each other and begin their warm-up exer­cises.

Several paired-off wrestlers com­pete simul­ta­ne­ously with judges look­ing on to make sure the rules are respected. They have 40 min­utes to beat their oppo­nent, with an addi­tional seven min­utes of over­time if needed. The win­ner claims vic­tory if he can pin his opponent’s shoul­ders to the ground, carry him above his shoul­ders, or if his kis­bet gets torn in the process.


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