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History of wrestling is almost identical with the history of humanity, and it was present in some form in almost every civilisation. However, Oil Wrestling is a sport of Turkish people and part of Turkish traditions. It is more than a sporting competition, and forms an important cultural value. The competition is watched by thousands every year and the pages of Ottoman history are played out live before them. Wrestlers in their traditional attire, cazgırs, announcers, praising the wrestlers in poetry and pray for their success; players of davul (double headed drum) and zurna (a relative of the woodwind instrument shawm) playing special historic tunes associated with oil wrestling; and the peşrev, traditional warm up movements, ritual opening of competition, would carry you back in time to Ottoman Era, and you would be witnessing a tradition that has been practiced over centuries.
The Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling annual tournament started when Edirne was conquered by the Ottomans in 1361. The tradition continued with the participation of hundreds of wrestlers every year and will have been held 654 times in 2015. The tournament is believed to have been initiated in order to commemorate two legendary wrestlers who started wrestling on the grassy plains near Edirne, but never giving up they both died there. The first tournament was held under the auspices of Sultan Murat I, and since then the games have been held annually only giving unavoidable breaks during times of war. The tournament was inscribed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List as the oldest sustained wrestling tournament of the world.
The Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling Tournament is open to everybody regardless of their religion, race or age, and it is a privilege for wrestler to take part in the competition to win the coveted Golden Belt, and wrestlers from all corners of Turkey come to the tournament because it is a valued feature of Turkish culture. Turks regard wrestling as the sport of their ancestors, and attach various meanings to. Turks regard wrestling as an instrument of training youth and character-building where manhood, courage, strength and endurance are developed and tested. The term "pehlivan", used to designate wrestlers competing in Kırkpınar, indicates the respect has been shown to the sport since the term means fighter, hero, or stalwart. The old saying, "not every wrestler is a pehlivan" indicates the association of the term with personal qualities such as honesty, morality, and decency in addition to the success in sport.
In oil wrestling a pehlivan wears a kispet, which is a calf-length, hand-stitched lederhosen, custom tailored for the particular wrestler by a master craftsman from Buffalo or cow hide, which is fastened about the legs with draws-strings. Remaining naked body as well as the kispet are drenched in olive oil before starting wrestling. The intricate rules of wearing a kispet, saying particular prayers, and reciting the names of Prophet Mohammad, and his son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Talib in certain ways, are traditions stemming from the association of wrestling with religious orders and lodges in Seljuk era. Following the Seljuk traditions the Ottomans paid great respect to wrestling and wrestlers. It is also recorded that several Ottoman Sultans were renowned wrestlers. The value and attention paid to the sport in that era was evident in creation of wrestling training lodges, and granting titles, orders, and stipends to wrestlers by the Court.
The main theme of the Kırkpınar Festivities is the oil-wrestling tournament, but Sarayiçi, the Old Palace Gardens, became a marketplace for Turkish culinary and entertainment culture. Visitors watch the competition, taste the locally prepared food, and enjoy excursions to monumental Ottoman structures in this city which used to be the previous capital of the Ottomans before Istanbul. First and foremost is Selimiye Mosque, the masterpiece of Sinan, the Architect Royal, inscribed in the World Heritage List of UNESCO.
The annual Kırkpınar Oil-Wrestling Festival is held at the end of June or the beginning of July in Sarayici, Edirne. If you wish to have further information on the history of festivities or the tradition of oil-wrestling please visit the following websites:
Edirne is two-hour's drive away from Istanbul, the largest city of Turkey. After your flight to Istanbul, you could take a ride on any of the coach services to Edirne, departing hourly. There are also scheduled coach services
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