This traditional game is a team event, involving two teams of horsemen, who throw wooden javelins at each other to score points. During the Ottoman period it became a popular war game demonstrating the bravery of its participants, with competitions held in the Hippodrome in Istanbul. Despite its popularity, it was banned in 1826 by Sultan Mahmut II, who considered it to be too dangerous. Although it was still played regularly until about 50 years ago, now it is only played in a few regions to mark ceremonial occasions, mostly those around Erzurum and Kars in the east of Turkey, although it can also still be seen in Konya, in central Anatolia, and in Balikesir on the Aegean.
Oil wrestling is a version of this popular national sport made more difficult by the fact that the combatants are smothered in oil. The competitors wear traditional black costumes and the event is held every year in June in a meadow just outside Edirne. Known as Kirkpinar, it literally means ‘Forty Spring’ and is said to have been named after the forty Ottoman warriors who, in the 14th century, made the first crossing of the Dardanelles into Europe.