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Oil Wrestling & Kirkpinar

Dec, 25 || 13 Comments | Tags: , , , , , ,
Wrestlers - Photo by Edirne Vergi Dairesi Baskanligi
Kirkpinar Statue - Photo by Edirne Vergi Dairesi Baskanligi

Kirkpinar Statue – Photo by Edirne Vergi Dairesi Baskanligi

Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling Festival is a major annual national event featuring every summer which hundreds of Turkish Oil Wrestlers participate in a variety of categories. The annual Kırkpınar tournament, held in Sarayiçi district since 1362, is the oldest continuously running, sanctioned sporting competition in the world.

Kırkpınar holds a Guinness World Record for the longest running sports competition.

Oil wrestling festivals also take place in other cities of Turkey but Kırkpınar is the largest and most respectful event. It is held annually, usually in late June or rarely in early July in Sarayiçi.

Oil Wrestling is so called because the wrestlers douse themselves with olive oil. The wrestlers, known as

Wrestlers3 - Photo by Edirne Vergi Dairesi Baskanligi

Wrestlers3 – Photo by Edirne Vergi Dairesi Baskanligi

pehlivan; meaning hero or champion, wear a type of hand-stitched lederhosen called ‘kıspet’ which is also traditionally made of water buffalo hide and most recently has been made of calfskin. The matches take place in an open, grassy field stadium in Sarayiçi, also called as Er Meydanı (Eng: Field of Brave Men), with the contestants naked except for ‘kıspet’s made of leather, which extend to just below the knee. Victory is achieved when one wrestler either pins the other to the ground or lifts his opponent above his shoulders.

Wrestlers compete in 12 categories over the three-day festival, with dozens of matches taking place simultaneously in the large Sarayiçi stadium.


During the period Islam was brought into Asia Minor, spirituality and philosophy became part of the physical garment of the pehlivan. Oil-wrestling was established as a sport on its own. In Iran and the Ottoman Empire alike wrestling became the national sport. The wrestler is the strong-man in popular culture. He is also the pehlivan, the knightly hero who is a free-living spirit and is generous and loyal.

The year 1362 is adapted by the organizers of the Edirne Kırkpınar as date Ottoman soldiers started to organize annual oil-wrestling tournaments in Kırkpınar, the wrestling field.

Wrestlers - Photo by Edirne Vergi Dairesi Baskanligi

Wrestlers – Photo by Edirne Vergi Dairesi Baskanligi

It is said that, before the conquest of Edirne, sultan Orhan Gazi, the second sultan of Ottoman Empire, sent his brother Süleyman Pasha with 40 chosen strong men to conquer the Byzantine castle of Domuzlu, a feat they achieved over night. Besides their soldiering prowess, all 40 men were keen wrestlers and regularly challenged each other to bouts. The legend goes that two of them were so evenly matched that they wrestled for days without any clear result. The last bout between those two finalists lasted all night as neither was able to defeat the other. They were found dead the next morning. They were buried underneath a nearby fig tree, whereupon their comrades headed to conquer Edirne. After the conquest, the soldiers came upon the fig tree, they saw that the fig tree was surrounded by a crystal-clear spring, so they renamed the surrounding meadow as “Kırkpınar”, which translates from Turkish as “forty springs”.

To commemorate the heroism of the conquering warriors, a wrestling tournament was re-enacted annually at this site, and the oldest still-contested sanctioned sporting competition in the world began.

Wrestlers 2 - Photo by Edirne Vergi Dairesi Baskanligi

Wrestlers 2 – Photo by Edirne Vergi Dairesi Baskanligi

From the 16th century on, the term ‘pehlivan’ was exclusively used in the Ottoman Empire for the wrestling sportsman. In 1590, a peace agreement was reached between Murat III and the Persian Shah. The model of the wrestling pants go back to this period. The model is still same for the Iranian ‘pahlivan’ and the Turkish ‘pehlivan’, except that the Turkish wrestling pants are made of leather and are called ‘kıspet’, while the Iranian pahlivan wears a ‘pirpet’, made of silk. Famous wrestlers from Iran came to Istanbul to compete with the Ottoman champions, and the Turkish champs were invited to Persia to show their strength. Only the strongest and most healtiest boys had a chance to become a pehlivan. Always known to be free enough to be honest and through history trusted for his words and behaviours. After the foundation of Turkish republic, Atatürk thought to put the wrestling organizations directly under his own sponsorship. Oil wrestling championships is restyled according to his guidelines for sport in the new Turkish Republic. So the winner of Kırkpınar became ‘Başpehlivan (chief wrestler) of the Kırkpınar’ and ‘Champion of Turkey’. Instead of all those traditional prizes as horses, donkeys and camels, today the top 4 qualifiers would have a nice modern medal and a cup, just as they do in the rest of the modern world and ‘Başpehlivan’ of the year would keep the Golden Belt (Altın Kemer) for a year, until the next tournament. Only for the Edirne Kırkpınar and solely if a ‘Başpehlivan’ is winner for three consecutive years, he becomes the owner of such valuable object; Golden Belt, for ever. The weight of the Golden Belt is limited to a topmost of 1.450 gram 14 carat gold.

Since 1924, the tournament is held on the Sarayiçi island, between the two branches of Tunca River, in Edirne.

There has always been a common respect for the oil-wrestlers. The pehlivan being stronger than anybody, having a well built body, clothed in heavy leather pants. Up till today, the wrestlers pour olive oil onto their bodies. And still you see a younger wrestler defeating an older wrestler kiss the older wrestler’s hand.

Agha (chief)

The Kırkpınar wrestling competitions of Edirne were still held under the protectorate of the ‘Agha’, the chief. Although, officially Kırkpınar Organization is held by Edirne Municipality, the Agha  welcomes his guests and puts them up at the hotel, has dinners, and organizes festivities. Also, he hands out the prizes to the winners in their categories. Just before the final game of the Kırkpınar, the organizing Agha holds an auction, for the Agha of the next year. The bids are placed on a ram. The highest bidder becomes the Agha of the next year’s Kırkpınar and is the number one sponsor.

Match Time

Until 1975, there was no time limit to wrestling in Kırkpınar. The pehlivans would wrestle sometimes one, sometimes two days, until they could establish superiority to one another. Wrestling games would go on from 9am until dusk and the ones that could not beat each other would go on the next day. After 1975, wrestling was limited to 40 minutes in başpehlivan category. If there is no winner within these limits, the pehlivans wrestle for 15 minutes with scored recorded. The ones that can score points in this last period are accepted as the winners. In other categories, the wrestling time is limited to 30 minutes. If there is no winner, 10 minutes of score wrestling follows.

Cazgır (The announcer)

He is the person who introduces all the wrestlers to the spectators and who starts the wrestling games, even before the peşrev. The announcer, introduces the names, titles and the wrestling skills of the wrestlers who are matched by drawing lots, with telling traditional oil wrestling poets.

Peşrev (Peshrev)

Peşrev is the harmonious ceremony; preparation and entry to the match, done by the wrestlers. Before the match in order to warm up, boost the morale, the pehlivans make esthethic moves in the arena. With peşrev, wrestler prepares his muscles, soul, heart and brain to begin wrestling. It is done for 5 minutes in accordance with the customs and the traditional rules. In a harmonious way peşrev starts with waving hands and arms, with jumping-like on the grass. After touring three times in the arena, wrestler stops, bends on left knee and with right hand he touches the ground, left knee, lips and forehead three times. Then polls the opponent’s legs, kıspet, stroke the back of the neck, connected, hands shaked and thus would be entered wrestling.


Kırkpınar drums and shrill pipes are the most important elements of oil wrestling. They have a unique melody played during the entire game. All the musicians must strictly know the melody very well, and most importantly according to the course of wrestling game the rhythm of the music is adjusted.

Red Bottom Candle

Red Bottom Candle is the symbol of invitation to the Oil Wrestling games. Red Bottom Candle was hung in the cafes of villages and towns, to invite people to Kırkpınar.

Statue of Wrestlers - Photo by Edirne Vergi Dairesi Baskanligi

Statue of Wrestlers – Photo by Edirne Vergi Dairesi Baskanligi

Famous Wrestlers

These wrestlers were real heroes who were not beaten in the wrestling field. Kırkpınar lived the brightest and most glorious days during the time of these wrestlers and Kırkpınar became a legend. These wrestlers who became famous for their wrestling capabilities as well as their bravery took their well deserved place in the history of Kırkpınar. The statues of some of those wrestlers can be seen around Sarayiçi Stadium. The greatest name of Kırkpınar oil wrestling tournament was certainly Kel Alico (Ruthless Bald Alico).

Kel Alico became Chief Wrestler of Kirkpinar for 27 years in a row. An admirable record, could not be broken for a century.

If gold belt were given to those wrestlers who became champions in Kirkpinar for three years in a row, Kel Alico would have received and kept 9 Golden Belts. Kel Alico continued oil wrestling until 1885.


The event attracted little attention outside of Turkey until the 1990s, when the style of oil wrestling began to spread to Western Europe, particularly in Amsterdam. It has become particularly popular in the Netherlands, which now hosts its own annual version of the tournament, attracting participants from throughout Europe. Oil wrestling matches are also held in Japan.

The 653rd Annual Kırkpınar Oil wrestling festival was held on 16 - 22 June 2014.


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  1. Angila Portie says:

    That’s very helpful. My boyfriend and I are going to visit Istanbul next summer and we are sure oil wrestling in Edirne is a must-do activity for the sheer spectacle of it all. I’m pretty sure this blog entry gave me all I needed. Thanks! See you in Edirne next summer!

  2. cinthia astella says:

    i like this it’s a great job, keep it up.

  3. Cecilia Carleto says:

    oh la la! thanks for the post!

  4. celi_monteiro3 says:

    thank you for sharing all this great information.

  5. Maria Julia says:

    got interested after reading this. thank you. such a good post.

  6. Clerison Lima says:

    perhaps this is one of the most interesting blogs that i have ever seen. interesting article, useful comments. keep it up! thx

  7. Olson says:

    Of course, what a great site and revealing posts, I surely will bookmark your website.Best Regards!

  8. Anonymous says:

    I am so grateful for your blog article. Want more.

  9. Jesse Haakenson says:

    Whats up very nice blog!! Beautiful .. Amazing .. I’ll bookmark your blog and take the feeds additionally…

  10. Julien says:

    Can you see oil wrestling at other times of the year?

    I will be in Edirne early May 2014 and would like to see an event if possible.


  11. Reshmi Pal says:

    I’m planning to visit Turkey on coming October. Therefore i’ll miss Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival.

    Is there any Akhara or training center of Oil Wrestling in Edirne? If so, then how can we visit the place to watch wrestlers practicing?

    • degisa74 says:

      Hello Reshmi,
      Kırkpınar is the name of the organization. It is held annually and there is no permanent training/practicing center in the premises. The wrestlers come from all around Turkey, during the organization. The only way to watch wrestlers is to visit Sarayiçi during Kırkpınar festival.

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