Only the Greasiest Man Wins: Kırkpınar Festival in Edirne, Turkey

Often called one of the most macho sports in the world, the oil wrestling that takes place over three days in Edirne, Turkey, attracts visitors from all over the world and is a great reason to visit Turkey in June. No foreigners are permitted entry into the wrestling tournament, but they are encouraged to come and watch. And what a spectacle it is!

Two men in leather knee-length breeches step on to the field and are doused in olive oil before beginning a grappling bout that often goes as long as 40 minutes before a winner is declared. The man who goes unconquered wins the title of Chief Pehlivan. Pehlivan is an old Turkish word that means “brave”, but also has other regional meanings like “governor”, “physically large man” or “person who tells the truth”. In earlier history, Turkish warriors were known as pehlivans.

FeatureYavuz Sariyildiz / Shutterstock

Mythology

Many people believe that the oil wrestling tournament was invented in 1346, when a group of soldiers were ordered to storm the Domuz Fortress. After their victory, the soldiers were bored and so suggested a wrestling tournament to pass the time. After hours of wrestling, two brothers named Ali and Selim were deadlocked for first place, and neither could defeat the other.

The next day, they started wrestling again, and they grappled from sunrise to sundown before both of them collapsed from exhaustion and died. Years later, when their friends came back to the spot where they buried the brothers, they found a large river flowing, and called the place Kırkpınar, which means “Forty Springs.”

Oil DousingYavuz Sariyildiz / Shutterstock