Tarihi Kırkpınar Yağlı Güreş Festivali

Cultural in Edirne

This testosterone-charged sporting event is famous throughout Turkey and attracts enormous crowds to Edirne for three days in late June or early July every year.

The crowds come to cheer on muscular men skimpily clad in kispet (tight leather shorts) and lathered in olive oil, who attempt to wrestle their opponents to the ground or to lift them above their shoulders. It may sound theatrical, but this is a serious, ultra-macho sport, Turkish style.

According to local legend, the festival's origins go back to 1363, when the Ottoman sultan Orhan Gazi sent his brother Süleyman Paşa along with 40 men to conquer the Byzantine fortress at Domuz. The soldiers were all keen wrestlers, and after their victory they challenged each other to bouts. Two of them were so evenly matched that they fought for days without any clear result, until both of them finally dropped dead. When their bodies were buried under a nearby fig tree, a spring mysteriously appeared. The site was given the name Kırkpınar ('40 Springs'), in the wrestlers' honour.

The annual three-day contest has been held in Sarayiçi on the outskirts of Edirne since the birth of the republic, and is now preceded by four days of wrestling-themed festivities. Wrestlers, who are classed not by weight but by height, age and experience, compete in 13 categories – from minik (toddler) to baş (first class) – and dozens of matches take place simultaneously in the Sarayiçi stadium. Bouts are now capped at 30 or 40 minutes, after which they enter 'sudden death' one-fall-wins overtime. When all the fights are decided, prizes are awarded for conduct and technique, as well as the coveted and hotly contested başpehlivan (head wrestler) title.

Entry to the first day of the wrestling is free; tickets (₺70) are required for the next two. There's a ticket box at the venue, or you can purchase tickets from Biletix (www.biletix.com). Note that accommodation in and around the city over this week fills up fast.