Kirkpinar oil wrestling, Turkey

Photo © Seraphin L.

Held in the western Turkish town of Kirkpinar in late June, the greasy grapplings of this olive oil wrestling festival are the world’s oldest continuous annual sporting event, now in their 649th year.

Dating back to a time when Ottoman warriors – or Pehlavan (from the Persian for ‘champion’) – fought each other to keep fit between battles, the competition is still a matter of great honour, as is the annually competed title of head wrestler.

Combatants have to undergo an elaborate preparation process before each bout, being smeared all over by professional greasers and donning thick leather shorts. The winner gets a fat golden belt and the annual title. No matter how many upsets there are these days, it’s unlikely to rival the drama of the debut event back in 1360 when two champions actually wrestled each other to death.

Written by - Photo by Seraphin L.

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