Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Soon to Be a Tourist Attraction

Edirne's historic wrestling field is getting a facelift to make it a year-round tourist attraction.

Apr. 2, 2018
By Isabel Putinja

Recent News

Turkey’s annual Kirkpinar oil wrestling com­pe­ti­tion will soon become a tourist attrac­tion. The mayor of Edirne, the city that hosts the annual sport­ing event, has just announced plans to have the city’s his­toric wrestling field open to vis­i­tors year-round where they can also wit­ness demon­stra­tions of the sport.

A rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Go Turkey Tourism con­firmed to Olive Oil Times that the old sta­dium, his­tor­i­cal wrestling field and other facil­i­ties will be ren­o­vated in 2018. All ren­o­va­tions will be in accor­dance with the his­tor­i­cal tex­ture [sic]. Also, when the con­struc­tion is fin­ished, tourists can visit the new Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Museum.”

Edirne’s mayor, Recep Gürkan, told the state-run Anadolu news agency that the munic­i­pal­ity is mod­ern­iz­ing the field with assis­tance from the Ministry of Youth and Sports in time for the 657th com­pe­ti­tion to be held from July 2 – 8, 2018. He added that talks are under­way with tour oper­a­tors to bring tourists to the square once it’s com­plete where they can wit­ness demon­stra­tions of the sport for a small fee.

This new attrac­tion should pro­vide a boost to tourism and increased rev­enues for the city, located in a cor­ner of north­west­ern Turkey close to the coun­try’s bor­ders with Bulgaria and Greece.

The Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling com­pe­ti­tion is a pop­u­lar annual sport­ing event that has been held every year for the past 656 years. Before bat­tling it out on a grassy field, the wrestlers who are clad in long shorts of black buf­falo hide called kispet,” are slathered in olive oil.


With their skin slip­pery and slick from the oil, it’s a chal­lenge to get a good grip on their oppo­nents. But the man who man­ages to pin his oppo­nen­t’s shoul­ders to the ground, lift him over his shoul­ders, or has his kispet” torn in the process, wins the match. The wrestlers com­pete for the title Baspehlivan” (chief wrestler) and the cov­eted Kirkpinar golden belt.”

The annual event attracts thou­sands of spec­ta­tors. Wrestlers from every cor­ner of Turkey qual­ify in regional events to make it to Edirne for what many con­sider Turkey’s equiv­a­lent of the Super Bowl. In 2017, over 2,200 wrestlers took part.

Dating back to 1357, Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling may be the world’s old­est annual sport­ing event and is inscribed on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

It’s the only wrestling tour­na­ment in the world where com­peti­tors are cov­ered in oil. Olive oil is pre­ferred over other kinds of veg­etable oil because it’s con­sid­ered to be good for the skin. A sug­ges­tion a few years ago that sun­flower could be a cheaper replace­ment was met with out­rage on the part of the wrestlers.

The defend­ing cham­pion in this year’s event is Ismail Balaban, a farmer’s son from the Akmay vil­lage of Elmali who beat Orhan Okulu to take the 2017 title.

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