The History of Kırkpınar
Various stories are told to explain how Kırkpınar wrestling started some 641 years ago. The following tale is the one most widely told:
In 1346, during military expeditions led by Orhan Gazi to conquer Rumelia (the part of the Ottoman Empire which lay in Europe), his brother Süleyman Paşa marched with 40 soldiers to Domuzhisar, which was then in the hands of the Byzantines. They raided and conquered the Domuzhisar, or Domuz Fortress. After also conquering other fortresses, the group of 40 soldiers who formed the advance guard returned, and they came to rest in Samona, which is today in Greece. There, these 40 soldiers began to wrestle. After hours of wrestling, two brothers named Ali and Selim both proved unable to defeat the other. On a Hidrellez day (a festival held on May 6 to celebrate the beginning of summer), these two brothers started wrestling again. The wrestling match lasted the entire day but still neither man could defeat his brother, so the contest continued throughout the night illuminated by candle and torch light. At the end, however, both of the brothers ran short of both breath and energy and so they died.
At the spot where the two men had perished, where there was a fig tree, their friends laid them to rest. Then many years later they came to visit the tree. At that very place where the two brothers were buried, they found a great river flowing. Following this, the people of the region start calling the area “Kırkpınar” (Forty Springs). This was at the green pastoral area of the Greek village of Samona. At the end of the Balkan wars and World War I, the Kırkpınar Wrestling Contest started to be held at the place called Virantekke, which is located between Edirne and Mustafapaşa. After the foundation of the Turkish Republic, since 1924 the contests have been held in Edirne’s Sarayiçi area.
Until 1928, ağas (landlords) organized the Kırkpınar Wrestling Contest and they entertained the guests and gave awards to the winners. However, due to economic troubles in the country, people became reluctant to volunteer to become agas. So, starting in 1928, the Turkish Red Crescent (Kizilay) and the Child Protection Society (Çocuk Esirgeme Kurumu) took over the duties of putting together the wrestling contests.
In 1946, the Edirne Municipality started organizing the Kırkpınar Wrestling Contest, and in this year also Edirne Mayor Tahsin Şipka added the contest’s organization to the municipality’s official duties.
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“Pehlivan” is a Persian word normally meaning brave, but it also has a number of secondary meanings: officer, governor, a physically large man or a person who tells the truth. Throughout history the word has been used with a variety of meanings. The Seljuks used to employ the word to refer to heroic warriors, accomplished shooters and wrestlers. In the 16th century, it was used exclusively for athletes, and this practice continued to the end of the reign of Sultan Mahmut II.
The entire Turkish nation, including women and children, loves wrestling, and they respect wrestlers for their roots in the culture of warriors and heroism. People love pehlivans because they are physically stronger than everyone else, as well as muscular, healthy-looking, and brave, and because they have strong characters and you can trust their word.
In Ottoman times, wrestling contests were held as a part of festivals and weddings or as a way to raise funds for groups promoting social welfare.