Turkish Camel Wrestling Festivals – A Local’s Guide

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Camel Wrestling Festivals provide amazing opportunities to explore the uniqueness of Turkish culture. In this post, I will share with you all you need to know when attending these festivals with a local’s insights.

Camel Wrestling is only organized in West Turkey (Aegean region) and the Southern Coast of Turkey, and not much is known outside of these provinces, even in Turkey.

Since my childhood, I have attended dozens of Camel Wrestling Festivals, and let me tell you a secret: Turkish people do not attend 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 or regular sausages (camel sausages are rare these days because camels are really valued animals),
  • Enjoy the camel wrestling matches in a family-friendly atmosphere.

And much more…

Most camel owners learn how to handle a camel from their fathers.

Camel Wrestling Festivals are family-friendly events, each dual has a maximum time limit of 10 minutes but usually ends around 3 minutes.

Once a probable winner emerges, the camels are separated. These are prestige matches, and no camel owner wants to endanger their valued camels for the winning trophy of a Turkish carpet.

Camels are very expensive animals (valued between 50.000-100.000$), and each camel consumes 5 tons of animal feed yearly and they are treated with similar love to house dogs.

Additionally, Camels are not native animals of Turkey, and the only reason there are camels in Turkey is these camel wrestling festivals and their breeders’ love for these animals.

1. Places to Attend Camel Wrestling Festivals

Camel wrestling festivals are only held at places around the Aegean coast of Turkey. You can check the map below for the festival locations.

Canakkale, Balikesir, Izmir, Manisa, Aydin, and Denizli Antalya are the cities where you can witness this event.

Around a hundred Turkish camel wrestling events take place from December to April. Camel Wrestling Festivals are always organized on Sundays. Yet, traditional celebrations start a day before on Saturdays.

Camel parades, carpet nights, and camel beauty contests are some of the traditional events that you will witness during the Camel Wrestling Festival.

Festivals are not organized in special venues. Usually, a flat field with a hill nearby is a good place. The flat area is for camel wrestling matches, and the height is a good ground to watch these matches.

Camel Wrestling is a unique Turkish cultural event. There are also camel wrestling events held in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but these are minor events with different traditions. Source

Selcuk Festival
Photo is courtesy of Camel Wrestling Organization

The biggest festival is in Selcuk province. The festival is celebrated in the ancient Hippodrome of Ephesus, with 25.000 locals attending every year. 

Selcuk festival takes place on the third Sunday of every year.

The Selcuk festival (also called Kırkpınar of camel wrestling) is the ultimate championship arena of camel wrestling.

Individual champions of other smaller festivals attend the festival to determine the seasonal winners.

You can discover the ancient city of Ephesus after the festival.

Ephesus was the second most 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.

2. Traditional Events During Camel Wrestling Festival

2.1 Ceremonial march of the camels

A camel owner wearing traditional clothes is ready for the parade.

Saturday, a day before the festival, Camel owners wear their traditional dresses and ready their camels with traditional costumes.

A scene from The March of the Camels.

Around lunchtime, camels and their owners attend a parade across the town. Local musicians also attend the parade. You will witness people dancing traditional dances all over the town.

2.2 Camel beauty contest

Camel Beauty Contest

Camel Beauty contests are not a tradition, but since the 2010s, beauty contests have become part of the Camel Wrestling Festival.

The winning camel is determined by his posture, dressings, and overall condition.

2.3 Carpet night

Carpet night is a socializing event for camel owners. During this event, an auction will take place for a carpet to determine Agha.

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.

2.4 Festival Day

The main event will start on Sunday morning. The entrance fee usually is around 2-5 dollars and is 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 widespread practice that no entrance fee is requested from women.

Come prepared! You won’t find much food other than some stalls selling snacks. Bring your picnic backpack and your beverage with you.

These events are not commercialized. For this reason, you will not see tourists, and there will not be people trying to sell you something.

Camel Wrestling Festivals are seen as family events.

Prepare yourself for intense barbecue smoke. To try something really Turkish, bring a Turkish-style barbecue (mangal) and charcoal, which costs 10-50 dollars to purchase from a local store.

While you enjoy your barbecue and camel wrestling matches in the distance, musicians will wander around playing traditional music. They may demand to sit at your table.

Most of the time, 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, musicians may still ask for a drink, for this reason, bring extra glasses.

3. Rules of Camel Wrestling Matches

40-150 camel wrestling matches take place depending on the location of the festival. Source

Yet, nobody really cares who wins or loses, and there are no important prizes to win.

The camel wrestling 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 traditions.

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.

As a pet owner and an animal lover, I can understand and empathize with some of you who may have a 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).

Because 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.

3.1 Winning Conditions Camel Wrestling Match?

There are five ways that a camel wrestling match can end.

  1. The camel gets frightened by the opponent’s look and refuses to match.
  2. During the match, the camel yells and accepts defeat.
  3. One of the camels sits on top of his opponent, and the opponent becomes pacified.
  4. The owner of the camel believes the camel is in danger and throws a towel, accepting defeat.
  5. The referee will stop the match if there is a danger of camels harming each other.

4. How Camel Wrestling Matches Protect Nearly Extinct Turkish Camel Population

After the construction of efficient transportation systems in Turkey, the need for camels declined rapidly.

Nowadays, camels are only bred for prestige and attend these camel wrestling matches.

Also, camel meat and milk are not demanded by the Turkish public.

Camel Sausages are a delicacy that you can find only in camel wrestling festivals.

Camel sausages are a unique form of camel meat consumed in Turkey, but the only places you can eat these sausages are camel wrestling festivals.

In the 2000s, camel sausages were widely available in camel wrestling festivals, but in the 2020s I did not encounter any camel sausage sellers at the festivals that I attended.

4.1 Camel Population in Turkey

If camel wrestling 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.

According to official records, there were 118,647 in 1935, but today, there are only around 1000 camels in Turkey. Source

YearCamel Population in Turkey

There are only three families of breeding camels in Turkey. There is no camel breeder owning more than 40 camels. New camels are mostly imported from Iran.

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