Exploring Croatia’s Intangible UNESCO Heritage: Sinjska Alka

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Continuing TCN’s look at the intangible heritage of Croatia on October 3, 2016, a look at one of the most important events in Croatian culture – the Sinj Alka knights’ tournament.

Sinjska Alka is a 300 year-old knight’s tournament annually taking place in Sinj, Cetinska krajina region, since 1715. It was recognised by UNESCO in 2010. and for locals it is a symbol of preserving local heritage but also the symbol of the fight for freedom.

Alka is related to the battle for Sinj, when 700 defenders of Sinj fought against a large Ottoman army in 1715, while the Alka itself has probably taken place since 1718. According to legend, they defeated the army with the help of the Miraculous Madonna of Sinj. To remember and honour this victory, the Alka tournament takes place on the first Sunday every August. This UNESCO intangible heritage has a complex history and rich cultural heritage, which was partially presented in a recent TCN piece on Sinj. This article will describe the Alka tournament and present its importance in everyday life of local people.

The Alka tournament has a set of rules codified in 1833. statue which promotes fair play and ethics. In order to be an Alkar, you need to be born in the Cetinska Krajina, be honourable and have ‘oko sokolovo i čvrsta desnica’ (hawk eye and strong hands).

Before the competition, Alka has a festive procession in Sinj town centre. The participants are Alka knights, their commander alajčauš, tournament master, Alka squires and their commander harambaša. First to march are Alka squires and harambaša, then the drummers, standard bearer (carrying the Alka Tournament Society banner), bearers of the Image of Miraculous Madonna and the Croatian flat, Turkish shield bearer, mace bearers, edek horse guide, Tournament master, Alkar knights and finally Alkar commander. The procession is surrounded by a large public and it is a festive introduction for the competition.

In the Alka tournament, you need to aim the alka ring (halqa, which in Turkish means ring and it presents the bottom from the saddle of a horse and is ring shaped aim) in order to get the points and win. When an Alkar aims the alka ring with the wooden lance during full gallop, they can either aim at the smallest, central circle (punat), or aim two lower fields or upper field. Each time Alkar aims “u sridu” (central circle), the public hears cannon balls “mačkule” from fort Kamičak and the brass band. The winner is the one who gets the highest number of points the during course of three races. In the event they have a tied score, they play again in ‘pripetavanje’ until someone wins the tournament.

Alka is the only knights’ tournament in Croatia and Europe which has not become extinct and it has been played continuously for more than 300 years. The tournament is also the only one of the past European tournaments which involved local people not only the knights – it presents not only the knight heritage but local folklore and festivities. It is in correlation to the religious traditions because Alka is played to honour the Miraculous Madonna of Sinj. People of Sinj are extremely proud of their tradition – it is an enormous honour to be Alkar knight and to have the chance to participate on this tournament. The tournament itself did not change much in comparison to the times when it was first played – it even didn’t change its location – it has always been played in Sinj, except for three times when it was played in Split, Belgrade and Zagreb due to special events. The recent celebration of the 300th anniversary of Alka tournament was marked by the opening of a new interactive Alka museum and various events.

Watch Alka rehearsals here:

Source: Ministry of Culture, Tourist Board Sinj, Sinjska Alka


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