The Sinjska Alka, a knights’ tournament in Sinj

The Sinjska Alka, a knights’ tournament in Sinj

In honour of the heroic resistance of a few hundred soldiers who defended the town of Sinj against sixty thousand Ottoman soldiers in 1715, every August the town holds its famous annual chivalric tournament, the Sinjska alka. During the alka, the entire region in the Cetina river basin seems to return to the heroic era. From the early morning hours, a brass band invites the locals to come to the racetrack, the entire town is richly decorated, and every house prepares a wide array of traditional dishes. The contestants, alkari, meticulously prepare the whole day in order to make sure they are ready before meeting the crowds.

 

They ride their horses down the 160 m track in full gear, aiming their long spears at the tiny iron ring (the alka) hanging in the air, attempting to hit its centre (“u sridu”). This is their way of honouring the heroism and skill of the defenders of Sinj, who saved the town and its people over three hundred years ago. With each hit to the centre, a cannon is fired from the Sinj fort, accompanied by cheers from the crowd and festive music. The name of the winner who achieves the highest number of hits in the tripartite iron ring is inscribed in gold lettering on a long list of winners, and carries probably the highest honour one can earn in this region.

 

While the alkari, riding their horses and wearing a splendid traditional attire, led by the alkar chieftain, are certainly a sight to behold, the assistants who follow them, wearing colourful clothes and carrying medieval weapons, flintlocks and clubs, are equally important members of the procession. Thanks to the 1833 Statute, laying down strict rules for the tournament, as well as for the clothes and the conduct of the alkari and their entourage, Sinjska alka remains the most authentic chivalric tournament in Dalmatia, and a reflection of the pride of the local community.

 

The strong influences of European and Oriental cultures are evident in the rich attires of the contestants, which lead to an informal competition between families of who will have the best alkar in the most lavish attire, dating back some generations. The value of this piece of intangible heritage is reflected precisely in the way the community of Sinj and the Cetina river basin relates to it – Sinjska alka may be a one-day event, but people remain dedicated to it their entire lives, passing down the love for the tradition from generation to generation.