A City Of a Tradition:Edirne

The greased wrestling contests held at Edirne Kırkpınar are one of the oldest sports activities in Turkey. An authentic cultural legacy, they continue to be as exciting as on the first day.

Sports are the healthiest hobby a man can have, one of the four major phenomena (religion, politics, art, sports) that drive large groups of people over the face of the earth. Seen in this light, Turkey’s Kırkpınar greased wrestling, which is still practiced today, is an extraordinary sport with a history whose roots go far back in the records.

Greased wrestling, and the sport of wrestling on which Kırkpınar is based, has actually been around for 7 thousand years as a common thread running through the cultures of Egypt, Greece, Turkey, Assyria and Persia. Exalting human power and strength to the highest level, it served man well in his struggle to subdue nature and the other living creatures and was practiced by the Assyrian and Persian armies for military purposes.

From Asia to Anatolia When the
Turkish tribes migrated to Anatolia from Central Asia, wrestling underwent a profound cultural transformation which brought a breath of fresh air to the sport. Starting from the 13th century, Anatolia was shaped by thinkers like Mevlana and Yunus Emre and by philosophies which produced the saints of Khorasan and the Yesevi tradition and sages like Hacı Bektaş Veli and which outlined the ideals to which one could aspire by conquering the self. The beylicates that made up the Anatolian Seljuk State not only succeeded in plumbing the sources of scientific knowledge of their own periods, they also integrated those sources with their own beliefs to forge a synthesis.

Wrestling among the Anatolian
Turks There are known to have been communities that practiced wrestling during the period of the Anatolian Turkish beylicates. Serious historians such as Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall attest to the fact that wrestlers from the heroic Alp-Eren fighters as well as the legendary dervish Sarı Saltuk and his warriors passed through Anatolia to the European continent in 1264 and founded new settlements here. A common thread running through almost all the sources is that the Turcomans who took part in these raids practiced wrestling among themselves.

The written texts and stories that constitute the basic sources on Kırkpınar Wrestling are such as to corroborate this. But the really interesting part lies in the details that appear to have been preserved in this style of wrestling even today, the first of which is that the contest continues until one side is defeated. While this may strike some people as normal, as all sports scientists interested in the art of training know very well, wrestling is far more grueling than other branches of sport and therefore strains the limits of endurance. Wrestling is truly a sport that taxes a person’s ability to keep going. What makes greased wrestling special is that it is a sport that makes the basic moves of pinning, throwing and takedown even more difficult. Taking this into account, both the FILA and the Turkish Wrestling Federation have limited the duration of greased wrestling contests to a total of 52 minutes. Western experts are of the opinion that this limitation actually undermines the fundamental spirit of the sport.

Flow of culture
What makes Kırkpınar wrestling special is that the wrestler rubs his body with olive oil, whose health benefits to the body have been conclusively demonstrated. Still another factor is that music is part and parcel of the contest. The poetic chant recited by the ‘cazgir’ to motivate contestants and invite them to join the festival is also unique to Kırkpınar.

Champions of fair play
One of the results that has emerged from the many scholarly studies of the subject I have been making routinely since 1996 citing examples of almost all the living exemplars of the sport shows that the components of the athletic contest here are extraordinary. And those differences don’t end here. The use of music and the mutual respect the competing athletes demonstrate for each other at the beginning and end of a match are of an order not encountered in any other branch of sport. Part of an authentic cultural heritage, these splendid and enjoyable rituals are difficult to explain in words and something only those actually who see and experience them can comprehend. We invite everyone to come and experience Kırkpınar.

Edirne is one of the most beautiful towns in Thrace. Once capital of the Ottoman Empire, Edirne is an imperial city that was visited by the sultans at every opportunity, with the result that Ottoman architecture constitutes its primary cultural identity. And when we consider Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan’s bridges over the Meriç River and its tributaries, we might say of Edirne that it is a museum city.

A must-see
Be sure to visit Edirne’s monuments: first Selimiye Mosque, then the Eski Cami (Old Mosque), the Three-Balconied Mosque, Ali Paşa Covered Bazaar and the Complex of Bayezit II. Edirne Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art are just the place for those curious about Edirne’s historical depth.

Must-taste Served either crispy done or still pink inside, thinly sliced Edirne pan-fried liver has a superb taste. And you can find it almost anywhere you go in the city. Nor should the virtues of Edirne ‘köfte’ be underestimated. You won’t be sorry you tried these meatballs unique to Edirne. And in the Selimiye Mosque courtyard you can sweeten up your visit by buying traditional Ottoman taffy, Edirne marzipan, ‘deva-misk’ candy and feta cheese.


You can reach Edirne easily by flying Turkish Airlines direct from Istanbul, or flying to Istanbul or Çanakkale and traveling overland by car.

A wide range of boutique motels and bed&breakfasts on the shores of the Gulf of Saros offer convenient lodging. The hotels at the city center are ideal at other times of the year.

Fragrant-smelling fruit soaps are the first gift items that spring to mind at the mention of Edirne. Special Edirne embroidery, textiles, mirror-encrusted brooms, and Edirne cheese candy are among the gifts you can buy in the city’s historic hans and markets.