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Kırkpınar | © Charles Roffey/Flickr
Kırkpınar | © Charles Roffey/Flickr

10 Things to Know About Oil Wrestling, Turkey's National Sport

Picture of Feride Yalav-Heckeroth
Updated: 30 September 2017

Oil wrestling is one of the oldest sports in Turkey including a historic festival that has been held annually since 1346. Doused in oil, male wrestlers from young novices to trained professionals battle it out for matches that can last for hours. We’ve rounded up some of the most interesting facts about yağlı güreş.

History of oil wrestling

Oil wrestling goes back to the ancient civilizations of Sumer and Babylon as well as Greco-Roman traditions.


The object of oil wrestling is to get your opponent in a position where his belly button faces the sky, at which point he loses the game.

The traditional outfit

Oil wrestlers wear a leather pant called a kıspet, which is made from water buffalo leather and weighs about 13 kilos.

The oil

The oil makes things fair, as it’s not about the size or strength of the wrestler but the technique, since both have the disadvantage of being doused in slippery oil.

The oil’s history

Another theory states that the oil was applied to the skin to ward off mosquitoes, and when wrestlers began to do the same, the practice stuck and became ‘oil wrestling.’


The most important oil wrestling festival takes place every year since 1346 in Edirne and is called Kırkpınar.

The winner

The victor of the Kırkpınar festival wins an ornate golden belt as well as around 100,000 dollars and becomes the champion of Turkey, known as Başpehlivan in Turkish.


Every wrestler with a traditional upbringing has an apprentice who he trains in order to take over when he retires and continue the tradition.


Until 1975, wrestling matches didn’t have time limits and could go on for hours, sometimes days. So, a time limit of 40 minutes was set, with a seven-minute finale to count up final scores in order to end matches that surpass the 40 minute timeframe.

The Turk

A technique involving catching one of your opponents legs between your own from the top position and preventing them from returning to their knees, became known as ‘the Turk,’ after Turkey took home twelve medals during the 1948 London Olympics, having used the technique extensively.