There are several legends about Kırkpınar. The best known is: The legend started when Ottoman Sultan Orhan Gazi invaded Thrace. Sultan and Süleyman Pasha, together with 40 warriors, seized forts in the region that is now the Greece/Turkey/Bulgaria border. On their return, the soldiers started wrestling on the place they camped. Two brothers, Ali and Selim, wrestled for hours; however, they could not defeat each other. The match had to be continued at Ahırköy meadow during the annual Spring Festival (Hıdrellez) and Süleyman Pasha promised the winner a pair of leather pants (kispet). The combat started early in the morning and continued until midnight. In the end they both died of exhaustion.
Their comrades buried them under a fig tree and left. Years later a group returned to visit the graves and found a great spring flowing on the burial site and named the place Kırkpınar (Forty Springs).
Samona, the original birthplace of Kırkpınar is now within the borders of Greece. At the end of the Balkan War and World War I, Kırkpınar Wrestling took place at Virantekke near Edirne. Since the foundation of the Turkish Republic the contests have been held in the Sarayiçi area of Edirne.
The Kırkpınar Agas (Kırkpınar Landlords) organized the Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling until 1928. They entertained the guests and awarded the winners. Since 1946, the Kırkpınar Oil Wresting has been organized by the Municipality of Edirne.
The main differences that separate Kırkpınar Oil wrestling matches from Olympic wrestling are the duration of the match, tricks, and the rules of defeat. Oil wrestling matches are longer. The most important difference is that the wrestlers cover their body with olive oil to make holding difficult, and they wear kispet.
The tight short leather trousers that each competing Pehlivan (wrestler) wears are called “Kispet”. These kispet are made of water buffalo hide or calfskin and weigh about 12 kilograms. The belt of the kıspet is about four inches wide and half an inch thick. In the past, the wrestler’s wearing of “kispet” was considered a very significant event and there had to be a ceremony. The wrestlers had to achieve the rank of “Pehlivan” before being allowed to wear “kıspet”.
Kıspet are carried in baskets called Zembil, which are made of straw. After the wrestling the kıspet are cleaned and greased to prevent their drying out, and are put into the basket until the next match. When a wrestler hangs his Zembil on the wall it means that he has quit wrestling and will never wrestle again.
All fighters line up along one side of the field and the Cazgır (announcer) introduces the Pehlivans to the audience by announcing their names, titles and skills with appropriate verses and prayers. Then the wrestlers fill the field and begin harmonious warming up movements called “peşrev” accompanied by davul (drum) and zurna (horn).
The first aim of the Pehlivan is to become the Başpehlivan (head wrestler or the champion) at Kırkpınar. The winning wrestler in the “Baş” (head) category receives Başpehlivan of the Year award. The wrestler who becomes Başpehlivan for three consecutive years is awarded the most prestigious award of Kırkpınar: a 14-carat Golden Belt weighing 1.5 kilograms.
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