As Sinj prepares for its historic 300th anniversary, TCN catches up with Alka knight Petar Tomasevic to learn more about the tradition and culture of the only remaining knight tournament in Europe.
It has been arguably the best tourism presentation of the year, as preparations for the historic 300th Sinj Alka knights tournament continue to build up to the big day next month. Alka knights have been seen on the streets of Brussels, Zagreb and Split, while the Sinj Tourist Board has taken the message as far away as Chicago and New York.
TCN caught up with one of the competing knights, Petar Tomasevic, to learn more about Alka culture and what being a knight means to him.
1. Tell us a little about the Alka culture from a local point of view. How did you grow up with it and when did you decide you wanted to be an Alkar?
The Sinjska Alka is a unique traditional chivalric knight’s tournament held only in our town of Sinj. Alka cherishes our tradition and promotes bravery, it is a part of the identity of every true man of Sinj… And to become an alkar knight is great honour. Alka unites the past with the future, it is true love that passes from generation to generation.
In my case, I must admit that Alka was love at first sight, ever since my father took me to the “Prove“ when I was 6 years old . He said that since then ‘u sridu’ (in the middle) was my most commonly spoke word. Soon it just became part of my life, there were no more summer holidays on the Adriatic coast, but rather on Alka racecourse. I watched the Alkar knights and dreamed of being one. Well one of my dreams come true.
(Photo credit Branko Covic)
2. When did you first learn to ride a horse, and do you remember watching your first Alka tournament?
As soon as I was old enough, visiting the Alka hippodrome became a routine, even the saddle was heavier than me when I started. I knew the name of every horse in the Alka stable by heart.
With every free moment, I was practising horse-riding, because I knew how hard it was aiming at the alka ring at full gallop. It was not easy to start with, but by the time I was 16, I was quite a skilled horseman.
I remember of fascination of the shiny costumes, the fur hats on Alkar’s heads and spears in their hands. But that feeling when I first saw the Alka procession on the upper side of the Alka racecourse is indescribable.
When I heard the sound of the Alka marches, a tingling all over the body started, it was a strong emotion of pride. The remembrance of happiness of people when an alkar reached the ‘srida’ (the middle of the ring) was deeply rooted in my memory. But you must be there to feel the real atmosphere.
3. Tell us about the first tournament you took part in. How were the preparations, and how did you do?
Well, In 2002 I became a debutant in the Alka procession as companion of the standard bearer of the flag of the Alka Knights society. In that part I became an Alkar but not yet a competing Alkar; companions of the standard bearer have sabres and don’t participate in the Knights’ tournament.
But 4 years later, in 2007, I was a competing alkar knight.
My opening was quite good actually; I was just one ‘punat’ short of victory, but my friend Alkar Tino Radanović had the better eye of the hawk and a stronger right arm.
4. This year’s event is a special 300 year anniversary. How are preparations different this year?
300. The anniversary is our great jubilee, commemoration of a remarkable victory and in accordance there are numerous projects. As part of the troop of Alkars I participated in the film making (about 1715.), presentation of Alka in the capital of Croatia- Zagreb and the capital of EU- Brussels, and in our last procession in the town of Split. It was hard work but it also was interesting to present Alka all over the Europe. We are very proud of our graet Jubilee and we hope that we passed on the word about the small town of Sinj and our majestic Alka, protected by UNESCO.
This year we expect lots of visitors, and it will be more ceremonies, and we are proud to be part of a 300 year-old tradition. This year we started preparations a bit earlier, but for me as an Alkar every Alka is special and it is an opportunity to be the winner.
(Ante Zorica, an Alkar champion)
5. Take us through the day of an Alka knight on the day of the tournament. From breakfast to the after-party. What is the most exciting moment for you?
On the day of Alka we are woken early in the morning by ‘mačkule’, a cannon firing from the Old Town. From early morning we have lots of obligations.
The day begins with mass at the Old Town and history lessons on which we remember the great victory in 1715 and the vow of Madonna of Sinj, our heavenly patroness.
After that, the Duke’s adjutant drives in carriage through the city and calls for the military Alka, and the secular and church power of Sinj. During this time, all Alkars, including me, get ready at home.
Dressing the Alka uniform is quite a complex thing, there is baize dolman and trousers, silk girdle, embroidered sleeveless jacket and a shirt with filigree cufflinks. Without my wife’s help I could do it by myself, her help is quite important. At that time lots of guests are already arriving at my home to wish me good luck. After that I saddle my horse and leave to the house of alajčauš, the commander of Alkars, with special Christian greetings of my wife.
When all Alkars are gathered we leave to the Alka Hall. There is formal reception for our guests and photographing. After the formal part there is Last review by the Duke and then departure. We pass through the center of town, bowing in front of the church of Madonna of Sinj and finally arrive at the Alka racecourse. In Alka, the tournament is held every year on the first Sunday in August, now for 300 years.
For me personally, that feeling when you see whole auditorium applause in the rhythm of the Alka march is one of the WOW moments in life, and every year the feeling is as it was for the first time. But I must admit that the most exciting moment is when I start at ‘Biljeg’ trying to reach the alka-ring in full gallop. Adrenaline is at its peak, my heart is beating like crazy, and I am at the top of the world!
If I have the strongest eye of the hawk and the firmest arm I will be the winner, if not we will celebrate anyway in Alka Halls. At ‘The Night of Winner’ emotions are already settled down, winner or not, and at the end of day I’m proud to be an Alkar Knight.
6. As a man of Sinj, can you describe what being an Alkar means to you?
Being an Alkar is dream come true, my deepest wish and great honor.
Alka is a way of life, part of our identity and an obligation of preserving the tradition for my descendants, so that I can convey that enormous love of Alka on them.
A proud Alkar, Petar Tomasevic.