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Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival

Photographer: Erdem Sahin


Legend has it that, in 1346, the second bey (laut wiki) of the Ottoman Empire, Orhan Gazi, and 40 of his warriors, departed from the Ottoman capital city of Edirne to occupy Rumelia. The warriors started to wrestle for fun during the campaign in Greece. Two of them, who went by the names Ali and Selim, were unable to break the deadlock, with the stalemate continuing for days. Eventually, both fighters died of exhaustion. They were buried under a fig tree where, years later, several springs would be found. The site was hence named Kirkpinar (Forty Springs).


Some of the portraits featured in this package show Turkey's best wrestlers, young and old, as they gather for the national championships on a grassy field near Edirne. In 2014, Turkey is celebrating the oil wresiting festival’s 653rd anniversary. The festival has attracted increasing numbers of visitors every year since it was added to the UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.


The master wrestlers fight each other to claim the title of ‘Baspehlivan’ (Wrestling Champion) and take home the Golden Belt. If a Pehlivan can win the wrestling championship three times he earns the right to keep the belt for life.


All Pehlivans wear special thick leather trousers called 'kispet' and they cover themselves with olive oil before the matches to make it harder for their opponent to get sufficient grip during the fight.