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Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling 2023

The world's longest-running sport besides the Olympics was initiated by Ottoman warriors who once started a wrestle in a camp just out of boredom but took it too seriously to give in and fought to death

Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling
Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling
Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling

Perhaps wrestling was a normal thing among Ottoman warriors who trained their skills on one another, yet one of such workouts was meant to set up a new kind of sports. The legend says it happened in 1357 in a camp of Ottoman raiders who made a stop near the present-day Edirne. Forty bored soldiers started wrestling just for the sake of entertainment, and two of them never stopped and continued the combat throughout the night. All the same, there was no winner—in the morning both were found dead. The bodies were buried under a fig tree, and there miraculously appeared a source of crystal clear water. The water flew from the tree down to a meadow that was thus named Kirkpinar Meadow where "Kirkpinar" means forty sources.

Since the 14th century, Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling has been annually held in Edirne. The participants are supposed to wrestle in pairs, in this case not until death. The wrestlers or "pehlivans" are wearing traditional cowhide trousers, and their bodies are entirely covered in oil. In the starting position, men lock their hands and keep their heads close. Whoever manages to pin the opponent onto the ground or raise him in the air, wins. If it sounds like a piece of cake, you definitely underestimate the power of oil—it's extremely difficult to grab an oily body, and therefore wrestlers are allowed to pull their hands into the trousers to find anything that could be grabbed... Traditional tunes of drum and shawm contribute to the general medieval Middle Eastern atmosphere.

The competition takes place in the month of July. The bouts last for a whole week until the last standing wrestler in the Men's Stadium is declared the ultimate winner and rewarded with a golden belt. Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling is open for all men, regardless of race, religion, or any other issues. It is actually the world's oldest annual sports after the Olympics and belongs to the World Heritage of UNESCO.

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Last updated: by Eleonora Provozin