Camel Wrestling Festivals – UNESCO Cultural Heritage Candidate


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.

Selcuk Festival
Photo is courtesy of Camel Wrestling Organization

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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

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.

A scene from the march of the camels.

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.

Camel Beauty Contest

Festival Day

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.

  1. Camel gets frightened by the look of the opponent and refuses to match.
  2. 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.

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.

Camel Sausages are a delicacy which you can find only in 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

YearCamel Population in Turkey
1935118.647
195572.034
196446.400
198012.000
19952000
2005811
20101349

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

DateCamel Wrestling Venue
21.11.2021Işıklı – Aydın
21.11.2021Yunusemre – Manisa
28.11.2021Atça – Aydın
28.11.2021 Turanlar – Aydın
28.11.2021 Furunlu – İzmir
28.11.2021 Bafa – Muğla
12.12.2021Karacasu – 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
19.12.2021Hacıaliobası – Aydın
19.12.2021 Buharkent – Aydın
19.12.2021 Güllük – Muğla
19.12.2021 Umurbey – Çanakkale
19.12.2021 Ayvalık – Balıkesir
26.12.2021Aydın
26.12.2021 Dikili – İzmir
26.12.2021 Geyikli – Çanakkale
02.01.2022İncirliova – Aydın
02.01.2022 Bergama – İzmir
02.01.2022 Tuzla – Çanakkale
02.01.2022 Altınova – Balıkesir
09.01.2022Germencik – Aydın
09.01.2022 Menemen – İzmir
09.01.2022 Bodrum – Muğla
09.01.2022 Pekmezli – Çanakkale
09.01.2022 Gönen – Balıkesir
16.01.2022Selçuk Efes – İzmir
16.01.2022Yatağan – Muğla
23.01.2022Sultanhisar – Aydın
23.01.2022 Didim – Aydın
23.01.2022Tire – İzmir
23.01.2022 Burhaniye Çanakkale
23.01.2022 Kumluca – Antalya
30.01.2022Kuşadası – Aydın
30.01.2022Karpuzlu – Aydın
30.01.2022 Kemalpaşa – İzmir
30.01.2022 Kepez – Çanakkale
06.02.2022Yenipazar – Aydın
06.02.2022 Torbalı – İzmir
06.02.2022 Karaağaç – Balıkesir
06.02.2022 Sarayköy – Denizli
13.02.2022Kuyucak – Aydın
13.02.2022 Milas – Muğla
13.02.2022 Ezine – Çanakkale
13.02.2022 Edremit – Balıkesir
13.02.2022 Demre – Antalya
20.02.2022Nazilli – Aydın
20.02.2022 Çine – Aydın
20.02.2022 Poyracık – İzmir
20.02.2022 Çardak – Çanakkale
20.02.2022 Havran – Balıkesir
27.02.2022Bozdoğan – Aydın
27.02.2022 Söke – Aydın
27.02.2022 Menderes – İzmir
27.02.2022 Bayramiç – Çanakkale
27.02.2022 Salihli – Manisa
06.03.2022Köşk – Aydın
06.03.2022 Ulucak – İzmir
06.03.2022 Ayvacık – Çanakkale
06.03.2022 Köşkerler – Antalya
13.03.2022Güllübahçe – İzmir
13.03.2022 Bayraklı – Aydın
13.03.2022 Ödemiş – Aydın
13.03.2022 Çanakkale
13.03.2022 Buldan – Denizli
20.03.2022Kuyulu – 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
27.03.2022Ortaklar – Aydın
27.03.2022 Pınarbaşı – İzmir
27.03.2022 Çan – Çanakkale
27.03.2022 Saruhanlı – Manisa
Camel Wrestling Matches (Location and Dates)

Efe Genit

I am a father, a passionate traveler, and a Turkish lawyer. You can enjoy my guides and tips about Turkey that only Turkish locals would know.

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