Camel wrestling festivals rely on traditions older than 4000 years. Yet, Camel Wrestling is not much known outside the western provinces of Turkey. Today, these events are only organized in West Turkey (Aegean region).
These festivals are not commercialized, either. Yet, these festivals provide amazing opportunities to explore the uniqueness of Turkish culture.
Let me give you a SECRET, most of the people attending these festivals are not even there to watch wrestling camels. They are there to have fun and socialize…
There will be many different activities during these festivals. In a camel wrestling festival, you can…
- Enjoy Aegean dances,
- Witness the camel parade,
- Blend in with the local musicians and lots of drunk local villagers,
- Fill your barbecue with camel sausages,
- Enjoy the camel wrestling matches in a family-friendly atmosphere.
and much more….
This tradition is also a candidate for UNESCO Cultural Heritage.
This may sound weird, but CAMEL WRESTLING HELP THE PROTECTION OF NEARLY EXTINCT CAMELS POPULATION IN TURKEY.
Where do Camel Festivals take place?
Camel wrestling festivals are only held at places around the Aegean coast of Turkey. You can check the map below for the festival locations.
There are camel wrestling activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but these are minor events. This makes Camel Wrestling a unique Turkish activity. Source
The biggest festival is in Selcuk province. The festival is celebrated in the ancient hippodrome of Ephesus.
Selcuk festival takes place on the third Sunday of every year.
The Selcuk festival is also called the championship of camel wrestling. Individual champions of other smaller festivals attend her to determine the ultimate winner.
This event attracts around 25.000 locals every year.
You can discover the ancient city of Ephesus after the festival.
Ephesus was the second populous city on Earth around the 2nd century.
If you wish to learn more, here is my guide to Ephesus. Also, the Temple of Artemis, one of the 7 Wonders of the World, is located in Ephesus.
When do Camel Wrestling Festivals take place?
There will be around a hundred camel wrestling events from December to April. They are always organized on Sundays. Also, a day before, there will be other traditional activities.
CHECK OUT Camel Wrestling Calendar of 2020-2021 at the end of this post.
Festivals are not organized in dedicated areas. Usually, a flat surface with a slope nearby is a good place. The flat area is for camel wrestling matches, and the slope area is a good ground to watch these matches.
What to Expect Before and During A Camel Wrestling Festival?
Ceremonial march of the camels
One day before the festival, all the camels are elegantly dressed. Camels owners also wear their traditional dresses.
Around lunchtime, camels and their owners march across the town. Local musicians also attend the parade. You will witness people dancing traditional dances all over the town.
Carpet night is a socializing event for camel owners. An auction will take place for a carpet. In fact, the carpet is a symbol, the winner of the carpet auction will gain the title (Agha). In other words, Agha is the main sponsor of the event.
There will be lots of drinking. Sometimes belly dancers will prove their talents during this night.
Camel beauty contest
This is a new event, which was not a tradition. Since the 2010s, a beauty contest event has also been a part of these Festivals.
The winning camel is determined by his posture, dressings, and overall condition.
Come prepared! You won’t find much food other than camel sausages. Bring your picnic backpack and your beverage with you.
These events are not commercialized. For this reason, there will not be many people trying to sell you something. Camel Wrestling Festivals are seen as family events. Prepare yourself for intense barbecue smoke.
You should also bring your barbecue (mangal). It will cost you 10-50 dollars to purchase a simple Turkish-style barbecue and coal from your local store.
While you enjoy your barbecue and camel wrestling matches in the distance, musicians will wander around playing traditional music. They will also demand to sit at your table.
The musicians usually ask to share your drink (mostly raki), but not your money. But, as a foreigner, it may be better to tip them a small amount of money. Yet, they may still ask for a drink, bring extra glasses.
There will be around 40-150 camels depending on the location of the festival. Source
Is there an entrance fee?
A small entrance fee usually is around 2-5 dollars. Entrance fees are used to pay for the traveling expenses of camel owners. The surplus money is donated to a charity.
To encourage women visitors, it is a traditional and widespread practice that no entrance fee is requested from women.
Rules of Camel Wrestling Matches
How is the winner determined in a camel wrestling match?
There are five ways that a camel wrestling match can end.
- Camel gets frightened by the look of the opponent and refuses to match.
- Camel yells and accepts defeat.
- One of the camels sits on top of his opponent, and the opponent becomes pacified.
- The owner of the camel believes the camel is in danger and throws a towel accepting defeat.
- The referee will stop the match if there is a danger of camels harming each other.
What is the prize for the winning camel?
These matches are prestige matches for their owners. The winner will earn a carpet and reputation. 61 % of the camel owners attend these matches to uphold their family tradition.
Are the Camels Harmed During This Event
As a pet owner and an animal lover, I can understand and empathize with your reaction to this event.
I assure you this activity is not as violent as it sounds. The fighting level you will see is around the same level as an Olympic wrestling match (plus lots of camel saliva).
BBecause camels’ mouths are sealed, they can’t bite each other. Also, ropes are tied to each camel’s body, and if it gets too aggressive, Camels are instantly separated.
In the old days, camels were more harshly treated, and the matches had no time limit. Nowadays, matches are limited to ten minutes, and camels can only have one match per week.
With the camel wrestling match rules practiced today, most matches end in a draw.
How Camel Wrestling Matches Protect Nearly Extinct Turkish Camels?
After the construction of efficient transportation systems in Turkey, the need for camels declined rapidly.
Also, camel meat and milk are not demanded by the Turkish public. Nowadays, camels are only bred for prestige and attend these camel wrestling matches.
Camel sausages are the unique form of camel meat consumed in Turkey. Additionally, the only places you can eat these sausages are camel wrestling festivals.
If festivals were not organized, the camels in Turkey would be extinct because the only reason that a handful of camel owners bred these camels is to attend these festivals.
Let me explain by numbers.
How many are there in Turkey?
According to official records, there were 118,647 in 1935, but their numbers are dwindling and there are only around 1000 camels in Turkey. Source
|Year||Camel Population in Turkey|
There are only three family breeding camels in Turkey. There is no one owning more than 40 camels. New camels are mostly imported from Iran.
Camel Wrestling Calendar of 2021-2022
|Date||Camel Wrestling Venue|
|21.11.2021||Işıklı – Aydın|
|21.11.2021||Yunusemre – Manisa|
|28.11.2021||Atça – Aydın|
|28.11.2021||Turanlar – Aydın|
|28.11.2021||Furunlu – İzmir|
|28.11.2021||Bafa – Muğla|
|12.12.2021||Karacasu – Aydın|
|12.12.2021||Bağarası – Aydın|
|12.12.2021||Köşk – Aydın|
|12.12.2021||Karacaören – Çanakkale|
|12.12.2021||Pelitköy – Balıkesir|
|12.12.2021||Karacaören – Antalya|
|19.12.2021||Hacıaliobası – Aydın|
|19.12.2021||Buharkent – Aydın|
|19.12.2021||Güllük – Muğla|
|19.12.2021||Umurbey – Çanakkale|
|19.12.2021||Ayvalık – Balıkesir|
|26.12.2021||Dikili – İzmir|
|26.12.2021||Geyikli – Çanakkale|
|02.01.2022||İncirliova – Aydın|
|02.01.2022||Bergama – İzmir|
|02.01.2022||Tuzla – Çanakkale|
|02.01.2022||Altınova – Balıkesir|
|09.01.2022||Germencik – Aydın|
|09.01.2022||Menemen – İzmir|
|09.01.2022||Bodrum – Muğla|
|09.01.2022||Pekmezli – Çanakkale|
|09.01.2022||Gönen – Balıkesir|
|16.01.2022||Selçuk Efes – İzmir|
|16.01.2022||Yatağan – Muğla|
|23.01.2022||Sultanhisar – Aydın|
|23.01.2022||Didim – Aydın|
|23.01.2022||Tire – İzmir|
|23.01.2022||Kumluca – Antalya|
|30.01.2022||Kuşadası – Aydın|
|30.01.2022||Karpuzlu – Aydın|
|30.01.2022||Kemalpaşa – İzmir|
|30.01.2022||Kepez – Çanakkale|
|06.02.2022||Yenipazar – Aydın|
|06.02.2022||Torbalı – İzmir|
|06.02.2022||Karaağaç – Balıkesir|
|06.02.2022||Sarayköy – Denizli|
|13.02.2022||Kuyucak – Aydın|
|13.02.2022||Milas – Muğla|
|13.02.2022||Ezine – Çanakkale|
|13.02.2022||Edremit – Balıkesir|
|13.02.2022||Demre – Antalya|
|20.02.2022||Nazilli – Aydın|
|20.02.2022||Çine – Aydın|
|20.02.2022||Poyracık – İzmir|
|20.02.2022||Çardak – Çanakkale|
|20.02.2022||Havran – Balıkesir|
|27.02.2022||Bozdoğan – Aydın|
|27.02.2022||Söke – Aydın|
|27.02.2022||Menderes – İzmir|
|27.02.2022||Bayramiç – Çanakkale|
|27.02.2022||Salihli – Manisa|
|06.03.2022||Köşk – Aydın|
|06.03.2022||Ulucak – İzmir|
|06.03.2022||Ayvacık – Çanakkale|
|06.03.2022||Köşkerler – Antalya|
|13.03.2022||Güllübahçe – İzmir|
|13.03.2022||Bayraklı – Aydın|
|13.03.2022||Ödemiş – Aydın|
|13.03.2022||Buldan – Denizli|
|20.03.2022||Kuyulu – İzmir|
|20.03.2022||Mumcular – Muğla|
|20.03.2022||Ezine – Çanakkale|
|20.03.2022||Akçay – Balıkesir|
|20.03.2022||Gökkaya – Manisa|
|20.03.2022||Sarıgöl – Manisa|
|27.03.2022||Ortaklar – Aydın|
|27.03.2022||Pınarbaşı – İzmir|
|27.03.2022||Çan – Çanakkale|
|27.03.2022||Saruhanlı – Manisa|