One of the most interesting events in all of Croatia is Alka of Sinj Tournament. The Sinjska alka is an equestrian competition/tournament held every first Sunday in the month of August in town of Sinj, hinterland of Split. The tournament has been held for continuous 297 times since 1715 commemorating the victory over Ottoman Turkish army.
The legend goes that Sinj was attacked by 30 000 Turkish soldiers sometimes in the late July 1718. The siege continued for 15 days when, miraculously, the small garrison of 700 defeated mighty Turkish army. The victory was attributed to the Madonna (later locally called Madonna of Sinj) and it became a very important place of pilgrimage ever since.
The reality was less glamorous as it appears that Turkish army had bad water to drink and got some sort of a disease… fleeing with dirty pants unable to fight. I call that a miracle no matter what happened, as 30 000 bloodthirsty Turks would most certainly overrun the brave 700 locked behind the walls of Sinj.
No matter what happened, Sinj was saved and the traditional tournament is taking place ever since. With few interruptions it is closing in on 300 years making it the oldest tournament of it’s kind in Europe!
Alka is not authentic competition as numerous similar tournaments were taking place all over Europe in the past but it is the only one that survived all these centuries.
Only men born in Sinjska krajina region (city of Sinj and surrounding villages) can take part in the tournament and it is considered a great privilege to participate in the tournament. The vojvoda (“Duke”) of Alka is a ceremonial title representing the commander of the knights (alkars). It is a great honour to become the alkar vojvoda, and only the most notable men from Sinjska krajina can become one. The costumes worn by the men participating are the same that were worn by the warriors in the 18th century. Here you can see very clear oriental influences!
Special attention is dedicated to the horses.
Alka (comes from Turkish word for ring) is the name of the ring used in the tournament; it is made of two concentric rings connected with three bars apart. The rings are 35.1 mm, and 131.7 mm in diameter. The object is hung on a rope 3.32 meters above the ground. The contestant rides his horse down the race track and tries to hit the central ring of alka ring with his spear in full gallop. Depending on which part of the ring he hits, he receives from 1 to 3 points, and no points if he misses. If, however, the alkar sends the ring in the air away from its holder and hits any part of it on its way down, he will be awarded 1-3 points for a target hit and additional three points increasing the maximum to 6 points in one run. The contest consists of three rounds and Alka is the final day of three tournament days called Bara and Čoja.
The tournament is quite interesting although it is usually very, very hot – and the knights don’t look dressed up for August afternoon… Part of the reason is probably the fact that originally, the tournament was held in cooler months and in the recent time, it has been moved for the first Sunday in August. Alka is definitely a very unique event well worth seeing although it seems that is still not well known with the foreign tourists. Besides a very interesting history behind the event and the history of the entire region, it is also very picturesque with all the historic costumes, horses, historic weapons…
According to the legend, the defenders of Sinj captured the beautiful horse of the Turkish commander – Mehmed – paša Čećić – and all the rich ornaments. The same ornaments are now exhibited on one horse without the rider called Edek.
And quite interesting is a trophy Turkish shield…
This Alka was special as Turkish ambassador visited as the first Turkish representative in nearly 300 years! He got standing ovations after his speech from the people whose ancestors fought the Turks for centuries…
Alka is definitely worth seeing in real life and I just wish people of Sinj make this manifestation into a bigger event with celebration going on for three full days.
For more information visit beautiful web site: http://www.alka.hr/ … but only in Croatian.