Greased Lightning – The Tradition of Turkish Oil Wresting

The Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival, a greased-up wrestling match – is thought to be the oldest annual sporting event in the world and it takes place in Edirne, Turkey at the end of June every year. For almost 700 years wrestlers have travelled to Edirne so that they can battle each other while wearing nothing but traditional leather trousers and covered in olive oil. The last slippery man standing at the end of the tournament wins the title of Chief Pehlivan and receives the Golden Belt.

This weeklong event draws thousands of people every year and it takes back to the Ottoman raiders of the 14th century. These men were bored and looking for something to do, so they started to hold wrestling tournaments between themselves. According to legend, the first two wrestlers fought through the night until they both died. However, these days the wrestling tournaments are not a battle to the death.

Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival: Turkish Oil Wrestling
Mustafa – Portrait of a young wrestler: photo credit:Charles Roffey / CC 2.0

The Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival

The Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival will begin with a ceremony that includes forty different bands of drummers and musicians. The Golden Belt will be carried through the city in a procession and this event will be followed by prayers that are recited in the Selimiye Mosque. Then, everyone will travel to the Men Field where the wrestling bouts will take place. Anyone is welcome to take part in the tradition, regardless of age, culture, religion or race.

Before the tournament takes place, the master of ceremonies will announce the competitors to the audience and will recite their names and titles in verse. Next, all of the wrestlers will be oiled up by the oil man before the warm up exercises. More than 500 liters of oil will be used during the three day tournament! The live bands will play the drums as the wresting takes place.

The wrestlers will lock their arms and try to grip each other, but it is very difficult to keep hold of a man who is covered in olive oil. The men will sometimes grab each other’s trousers, or will even grab inside of each other’s trousers to try to get a grip.

In order to win the event, the competitor must pin their opponent’s shoulders to the ground, have their kisbet torn or carry them above their shoulders for three steps. When the winner is finally triumphant, they will kiss the defeated to the delight of the roaring crowd.

Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival: Gaining a good hold
Gaining a good hold: photo credit:Charles Roffey / CC 2.0

Tips for Watching Kirkpinar in Turkey:

  • The event takes place in the city of Edirne, which is in the Turkish region of East Thrace near the border of Bulgaria and Greece.
  • This year’s Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival will take place from June 29th to July 5th, 2015. The dates vary every year, so look this up before you go.
  • When you are there, you can also visit the impressive Selimiye Mosque, a gorgeous example of 16th century Ottoman Art.
  • The oil wrestling is a very popular event, so make sure that you book your hotel in advance during this time.

About Kelly Dunning


A Canadian freelance writer with a love of art, culture, literature and adventure, Kelly loves exploring foreign lands and expressing her experiences through the power of the written word. She and her English boyfriend Lee run, packed full with travel guides, stories and inspiration for those who dream of travel. They have been location independent and travelling the world digital-nomad style for the last three years, with no address, no car and no fixed schedule.

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  1. Top 8 Best Countries in Asia to Visit in July | Go 4 Travel Blog

    […] The month of July will be sunny and dry with refreshing sea breezes; altogether, it’s the best time to visit. You can visit Duden Waterfalls, Aqualand Antalaya Dolphin Land and Kursunlu Waterfalls Nature Park. For something a little different, consider the Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival in Edirne. […]


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