Age-old oil wrestling fest gives boost to tourism
Held annually in the Edirne province since 1362, the weeklong festival -- one of the world's oldest sports events -- has recently emerged as a major tourist attraction in Turkey. Located close to the country's borders with Bulgaria and Greece, Edirne was once the capital of the Ottoman Empire.
“Lots of tourists come to see Edirne's cultural and historical sites, especially those from the Ottoman era,” Mustafa Kabak, a hotel employee, told Anadolu Agency on July 6.
“But when the festival kicks off, it's a whole different story, as an incredible number of tourists arrive in the region.”
“The demand is so high during the Kırkpınar festival that it's almost impossible to find a single vacant room. In fact, there are local residents who leave the city and rent out their houses to tourists,” he added.
Boon to shops and hotels
Kabak, 33, said the festival has been a boon for the shop owners and hotel keepers in the province.
“We work really hard for the Kırkpınar event. It's well worth it.” Arif Uzun, 46, a taxi driver, said since this year's festival started he has seen a fourfold increase in demand.
“Today I gave rides to Japanese, Bulgarian, Russian, and British tourists. They all wanted to go to Sarayi.i,” the site of the festival, he said.
He underlined that the province's “golden triangle” – made up of three downtown mosques, the Selimiye, Üç Serefeli and Eski (old) Mosques – were always tourist attractions, but the festival took their popularity to a new level.
Roaring restaurant business
Restaurants and cafes are also enjoying the crowds of hungry tourists in town for the festival.
They are busy cooking mouthwatering dishes like Edirne liver, a specialty that Turks from across the country visit Edirne just to feast on.
“I love this oil wrestling festival as it's part of our age-old tradition. In addition, these wrestlers literally never have enough food. We serve plate after plate to full their stomachs!” said chef Kazım Gürbüz.
“Usually, a plate of Edirne liver will be enough for a normal human being, but these wrestlers order two, three, or even more plates. I'm not sure if it's because they're big guys or the taste of our dish is irresistible,” he said, smiling wryly.
Mert Gürbüz, his 16-year-old son, said the number of customers peaks during the festival.
Mariana, 51, a Turkish national of Bulgarian origin, who runs a bakery, said she sells more Turkish delight and dessert during the event.
“Honoring the country's old tradition is truly beautiful. In addition to this spiritual satisfaction, we also reap the benefits by earning more and serving more."
Food, faith, and culture in 'Sultan of cities'
Ertugrul Tanrıkulu, the city's deputy mayor, said that Edirne thrives on its Ottoman Era remains, picturesque mosques, “inspiring” natural beauties and more.
“By reflecting its history and culture, we do our best to make Edirne ma tourist destination,” he said. He said the festival attracted many local and international tourists, thus boosting its prosperity. He said due to the festival most local hotel rooms were booked months in advance.
“The people of Edirne look forward to hosting this festival,” he said.
Edirne province, one of Turkey's top five regional tourist attractions, is also known as the "Sultan of Cities." It was once the capital of the Ottoman Empire, before the conquest of Istanbul in 1453.
Today, this historically rich province draws tourists from all over thanks to its culture, cuisine, faith, and natural treasures.
In 2018, about 3.5 million domestic and international tourists visited the province. The demand peaks during the oil wrestling festival, which honors Turkey's ancient tradition of sports.