6 Weird and Strange Festivals in Turkey
There is nothing the Turks like to do better than celebrate! Whether it is a family occasion, or an opportunity for the town to come together, they really pull out all the stops to make such events a roaring success.
This includes yearly festivals happening across the country that often pay homage to a certain theme. While some of these festivals are religious, others credit culture, traditions or wildlife as the reason for a celebration, but on occasions, foreigners can raise a surprised eyebrow when told about the theme.
Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling
The idea of hunky men, wearing leather pants and wrestling about in oil may sound like the plotline of a raunchy novel but it is a real-life festival occurring during the months of June and July in the Edirne region of Turkey. This festival started more than 600 years ago and is a display of strength and health.
Don’t criticise it as an act of the Turkish man’s pride though because the practise dates back to the Persian and Romans. The ultimate winner is the man, who pins his opponent to the ground or carries him above his shoulders and participants also have to agree to drug testing to have a chance of winning the gold belt. This is serious stuff!
Selcuk Camel Wrestling
On the Aegean coast of Turkey, every February, the camel wrestling festival kicks off with a bang. The camels, covered with elaborate and highly colourful rugs are paraded around the ring before bets open. While this is happening, the village band starts to play and Turks fire up the BBQ ready for a feast to eat while drinking the national alcoholic drink of Raki.
While some accuse organisers of animal cruelty, they are quick to point out that the events occur at this time, because it is the camel breeding season, and males often jostle with each other, in the wild, for the affections of a female camel. Hence before the bouts start, a female camel is walked around to fire up the testosterone.
The winning camel and his owner are treated with high respect, especially in their home town but don’t assume this is some backend gambling operation. A camel cost as much as 3 years wages and a league is in place to pit camels against others which are of like-minded strength depending on their age and earlier wins. While Selcuk has always been the home of camel wrestling, the tournaments and stages are held across the Aegean coast including the regions of Bodrum and Denizli.
Beypazari Carrot Festival
One could easily wonder why a whole town would pay homage to the humble carrot but the central Anatolian region of Beypazari, grows and harvests 70% of Turkey's carrot production. Everything that can possibly be made from a carrot is sold including juice, cakes, and Turkish delight. Often held during the month of June, when the carrot harvest is finished, this 3-day event includes traditional folklore dancing, and of course, numerous opportunities to eat as many carrots as you want!
Antalya Sand Festival
Turkey has thousands of tons of sand covering its beaches on the North, West and South coasts so why would the Antalya region dedicate an entire festival to it? Well, it is not really about the sand itself but more about one a person can do with it, in particular art.
Participants use a mixture of water and sand to create sculptures according to that year’s theme of which 2015 is the 7 Wonders of the World & Mythology. Don’t think this festival is for amateurs though because earlier years participants have produced some mind-blowing life-size sculptures that took many days to craft. Held in the Lara Beach area of Antalya, the good news is that the event runs all summer from May to October and tickets cost just 15 lira.
Istanbul Tulip Festival
If you think tulips originated from Holland, this festival would seem strange but to lovers of Istanbul, the festival is an honourable dedication to the humble flower that originated from Turkey during the Ottoman era. Yes, that’s right. You can thank the Ottomans for the sweet-smelling delight that now covers thousands of acres of land across Holland. They shipped it across in boat loads during the 16th century and overtime, people just forgot that they originally come from Turkey.
For the entire month of April, a carpet of more than a million tulips in various varieties and colourful displays is strewn all over Istanbul including parks and patches of green land in residential and urban areas. The good news is that you don’t have to pay to see the tulip displays because they are everywhere!
Manisa Mesir Paste Festival
This festival, dedicated to a strange concoction of 41 plants and herbs, dates from 1527, when the paste-like substance made the wife of the Ottoman sultan Selim, smile. The story says after the death of Selim, his wife Ayse was filled with grief and her son, Suleyman the magnificent ordered a physician to find a cure. Such was the effectiveness of the natural medicine; the sultan distributed it every year for free.
The Manisa region on the Aegean coast of Turkey celebrates the festival every April with a show of musical art, costumes and traditional folklore dancing but the highlight is for everyone to gather in front of the mosque to catch the thousands of the paste-sweets thrown off the roof.
Every year across Turkey, more than a thousand festivals are held, some strange and some not so weird. If celebrations are your idea of fun, and you are visiting the country, check out the more well-known festivals including the yearly Istanbul Jazz festival and the international yachting regatta of Marmaris. The choice is endless!