#26 Sinj – Sinjska Alka
298th Sinjska Alka, Sinj, Croatia. August 2013
The Sinjska Alka is a knightly tournament which takes place in the town of Sinj in the Dalmatian hinterland and dates back to 1715, in which riders in full traditional costume compete to spear a small metal ring from a galloping horse.
The tournament takes place on the first weekend in August, and lasts three days, the first two known as the Bara and Čoja respectively, with traditional costumes being donned for the third and final day, the Alka itself. The hippodrome, lined with scaffolding and seating packed with spectators, runs along one side of a park in the town centre with the far end continuing up a narrow street, where people lean out of their windows to watch the tournament. It is an enormously colourful event, each alkar (knight) being accompanied by a momak (squire), also lavishly dressed in traditional costume, their waistbands (known as the zmijsko gnijezdo or ‘snake’s nest’) bristling with weaponry – flintlock pistols, yataghan daggers – and a flintlock rifle or mace on their shoulder.
The metal ring, known as an alka – shown here before being suspended above the track – has a small hole in the centre, surrounded by three larger openings. A successful strike in the central hole of the alka with the 3m long iron-tipped wooden spear is worth three points; the upper opening, two points; either of the two lower openings, one point. It is placed 160m from the beginning of the track – just enough time for a horse to reach a thundering full gallop. A strike to the centre draws an enthusiastic roar of U sridu! (‘In the centre!’) from the crowd, and is immediately followed by a band striking up and the sound of canon fire from the old town walls, loud enough to scare the pants off any unsuspecting members of the crowd. Winning the Alka is a matter of huge local and national prestige, and comes with a substantial cash prize, with smaller cash prizes going to the winners of the Bara and Čoja. The Sinjska Alka is inscribed on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Photo and text copyright © Rudolf Abraham. All rights reserved. Images may not be copied, stored, distributed or published in any form without prior written permission from Rudolf Abraham. Click here to view more images from the Sinjska Alka.