Oil wrestling is an ancestral sport of Turks; its history goes back a long way. Kırkpınar comes to mind first when wrestling is mentioned in Turkey. The oil wrestling competitions held in Sarayiçi Meadow are followed with great interest every year.
Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling Festival was born in the 14th century in Rumelia. It is one of the oldest wrestling festivals in the world. Oil wrestling is a form of wrestling in which wrestlers wear leather trousers (kispet) with their waist and legs tied with a rope and compete on the grass by being oiled with olive oil.
There are various stories about the birth of the Kırkpınar Wrestling. The best-known story takes place during the period of Ottoman sultan Orhan Gazi. During the conquest of Rumelia, Orhan Gazi’s brother Süleyman Pasha conquered some of the castles here with his soldiers. As the troop of Süleyman Pasha returns, they wrestle in Samona, which is a Greek territory today. During this wrestling, 2 soldiers cannot beat each other. Later, these two soldiers decide to wrestle again on a Hıdırellez day. The two wrestlers start wrestling early in the morning, but both fail to overthrow each other, and in the middle of the night, they both die of exhaustion. Their friends buried the bodies of two wrestlers under a fig tree there. After years, people saw that springs (pınar in Turkish) begin to flow from the spot where the graves of two wrestlers were located. After this, the place where the water flows is called Kırkpınar (forty springs).
Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling was performed in the Kırkpınar meadow around the village of Samona, which was an Ottoman land in the early days. After the Balkan and World War I, the festival started to be held in Viran Tekke district. After the Republic’s foundation, Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling began to be held in Edirne’s Sarayiçi region and still continues here.
For oil wrestling competitions, which used to be indefinite, a competition time has been determined in recent years. There have been wrestling matches left to the next day in history because they did not end for hours or even because there was no victory. This would have been decided by the referee board that administered the wrestling.
The person who introduces the wrestlers to the audience is called cazgır (announcer). Cazgır shouts and presents the wrestlers who will wrestle and explains the skills of these wrestlers. Then he prays. When the prayer is over, the wrestlers enter the square with the drums and flutes playing.
Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling includes many rituals from the invitation stage to the award ceremony. Historical Kırkpınar Wrestling, which is usually held in late June and early July, lasts seven days. The winner wins the title of chief wrestler and the prestigious golden belt for one year. The wrestler who has been the chief wrestler for three years in a row becomes the permanent owner of the golden belt.
The criteria of being a wrestler have been determined over a long period in the oil wrestling tradition. Having positive personal characteristics suitable for the spirit of wrestling sport is the most important condition of being a good wrestler. The wrestler is expected to act with the awareness of being in the public eye at all times.
Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling Festival is a unique one-week training arena, a meeting point for 650 years where wrestler and wrestler candidates from all over the country come together with their masters. The cultural identity that has survived to the present day through the festival is transferred to apprentices and child wrestler candidates, thus ensuring the tradition’s continuity.