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Sinjska Alka and Its Enduring Significance in Croatian Culture

The Sinjska Alka is a traditional game, a medieval equestrian tournament that has been held annually in Sinj since 1715. The game revolves around the knights, known as alkars, who ride on horseback and aim to hit a small iron ring, the alka, suspended on a rope across the main street of Sinj. The alka consists of two concentric circles and three bars, and the objective is to insert a lance through the middle of the alka and successfully hit the bars without dislodging it.

Sinjska Alka Slavodobitnik Ante Zorica Source L Carevic
Sinjska Alka, Slavodobitnik Ante Zorica
Source: L. Carevic

The Sinjska Alka is deeply rooted in the history and culture of the region. It originated as a celebration and commemoration of the victory over the Ottoman Turks during the Siege of Sinj in 1715. The game is held on the first Sunday in August and attracts numerous participants and spectators.

For centuries, Sinj has been a coveted gem, sought after by every government—an extraordinary land nestled between the coast and the continent, surrounded by majestic mountain peaks and the flowing waters of Cetina and its tributaries. Despite enduring earthquakes, invasions, and the imposition of foreign languages, religions, and customs, Sinj has remained resilient, unwavering, and defiant.

Alkar Source L Carevic
Alkar uniform
Source: L.Carevic

The illustrious folk poet, fra Andrija Kačić Miošić, immortalizes the magnificent victory over the Turks in 1715 with his resounding ode to Sinj: “Build, O Sinj, with golden prowess, the heroic triumphs of ancient times.” In homage to their heavenly protector, Our Lady of Sinj, who, as legend has it, appeared as a white-clad woman patrolling the walls of Sinj and warding off the Ottomans, the people of Sinj established the noble spectacle of Alka. Every year, on the first Sunday of August, they gather to relive that famous victory.

Alka stands as a symbol of the eternal struggle for freedom, peace, home, faith, and hope. It bridges the gap between the past and the future, honoring the values of integrity and honor, the customs of our ancestors, and the spirit of heroism and bravery. The name “Alka” derives from the Turkish and Arabic word “halqa,” meaning a ring or circle, referencing the stirrup’s distinctive shape on the saddle of the captured horse belonging to the Turkish serasker-pasha Čelić.

During the Alkar ceremony, two young men lead a horse, representing the Pasha’s deputy (edek), by its reins. The victor is determined by accumulating the most points across three Alka races. In the event of a tie, the leading contestants compete until one of them amasses more points. 

The History of Sinjska Alka

In ancient times, Alka was held at different times of the year, with events taking place twice annually. For instance, it was raced twice in 1798 (on the final day of the carnival and on May 9), in 1818 (on May 15 and July 6). In 1834, it occurred on February 9, in 1838 on April 19, and in 1855, it was rescheduled to October 4 due to a cholera outbreak. Since 1849, however, the regular race has been consistently held on August 18, coinciding with Emperor Francis Joseph’s birthday, as stipulated by the 1902 Statute. Subsequently, Alka has been faithfully raced in August (under the new rules), during the first third of the month, alongside Bara and Čoja.

In 1818, during his journey through Dalmatia, Sinj welcomed Emperor and King Franjo II, prompting the locals to organize a grand celebration. The emperor bestowed the victorious Alkar with a magnificent ring valued at 800 forints. Since then, Vienna has awarded the winners a prize of 100 forints, becoming a pivotal incentive for preserving this noble game. When Emperor Franz Joseph I assumed power in 1848, the Society established the award at 100 forints, a tradition that lasted until 1901. From 1902 to 1914, the prize amounted to 4,000 crowns, and from 1914 to 1918, it was set at 600 crowns.

Alkar Source PJL
Source: PJL

Alka has been held on several occasions during visits by rulers and important figures. Notably, on March 28, 1842, a race was held in honor of the Austrian Archduke Albrecht’s visit to Sinj, followed by another on October 22 of the same year, commemorating the visit of the Austrian Archduke Franz Karl. A special festive Alka took place on May 18, 1875, to honor Emperor and King Franjo Josip I during his stay in Sinj. On that occasion, Mata Bonić, the victor, received a gold ring from the emperor.

Beyond Sinj, Alka has been held four times: in 1832 in Split, in 1922 in Belgrade, in 1946 in Zagreb, and in 2017 in Vukovar. Vicko Grabovac holds the record for the longest-serving Duke of Alkar, with 28 participations in the Alkar festival (1908-1936). Bruno Vuletić served as duke 21 times (1964-1985), followed by Ivan Vuletić with 17 occasions (1872-1894). 

Sinjska Alka Source PJL
Source: PJL

The Town of Sinj and Museum of Sinjska Alka

Sinj is a captivating town located in the Dalmatian Hinterland of Croatia. It holds historical significance and offers a unique cultural experience for visitors. The town’s rich history, charming architecture, natural beauty, and its association with the traditional knightly game of Alka make it an intriguing destination for tourists.

Sinj has a long and storied past that dates back centuries. It was founded during the Roman era and has since witnessed various rulers and conquerors, including Byzantines, Croatian kings, Venetians, Ottomans, and Austrians. This diverse historical background has left its mark on the town’s architecture and cultural heritage.

One of the main attractions in Sinj is the Sinjska Alka Museum, which showcases the history and traditions of the Alka tournament.

The tournament takes place annually on the first Sunday of August and is a spectacle of skill, tradition, and chivalry. Participants, known as Alkars, dressed in traditional costumes, gallop on horses and aim their lances at a hanging metal ring called the alka. The objective is to hit the center of the alka and score points. The Sinjska Alka Museum provides insights into the history of this fascinating event, showcasing artifacts, costumes, and historical documents related to Alka. 

Sinj’s connection to Alka extends beyond the museum. The town itself bears the marks of its historical struggles and triumphs. Visitors can explore the Old Town, which boasts medieval architecture and landmarks such as the Church of Our Lady of Sinj, dedicated to the town’s heavenly protector. The church is home to a revered painting of the Virgin Mary, believed to have played a role in the Ottoman defeat. Additionally, the town’s defensive walls, fortresses, and watchtowers offer glimpses into its tumultuous past.

The natural surroundings of Sinj are also a draw for tourists. The Cetina River, with its crystal-clear waters, offers opportunities for activities like rafting, kayaking, and fishing. The nearby mountainous landscapes provide hiking trails, scenic viewpoints, and a chance to immerse oneself in the region’s unspoiled nature.

The town’s blend of historical landmarks, captivating museums, and stunning natural landscapes make it an appealing destination for those seeking an authentic Croatian experience. Explore the medieval Old Town, visit the Sinjska Alka Museum to learn about the traditional knightly game, and witness the thrilling Alka tournament held annually.

Discover the town’s defensive walls, fortresses, and picturesque landscapes. Indulge in outdoor activities along the Cetina River and embrace the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains. Plan your visit to Sinj and create unforgettable memories in this enchanting Croatian destination. Book your adventure now!

Your CTC Team

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