The equestrian competition is one of the oldest and most celebrated Croatian traditions.

For more than 300 years the town of Sinj is home of the knightly tournament Sinjska alka held to commemorate the unexpected victory over the Ottoman army. Every year, carefully chosen participants, the alkars, put on traditional knights’ uniforms and attempt to take the prestigious title of the winner. Read about the starting point of the tradition so important UNESCO inscribed it in its Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

One victory for a centuries-long tradition

When the Turkish army attacked Dalmatia in 1715, they targeted Sinj first. The Ottomans chose to hit the little town because of its then strategic geographical importance. It was a miracle that 700 heroes from Sinj held down the Sinj fortress for two weeks, fighting off the army of 60.000 soldiers. The victory was attributed to the divine intervention of the Virgin Mary whose picture was brought into the fortress — from then on, she’s considered Sinj’s protectress. Each year, in the memory of that eve on August 15th, the main streets of the old town are a sight of a unique tournament, the Sinjska alka.

Simple rules of the challenging game

Participating in the medieval knights’ tournament may seem simple, as the contestants have to aim their lances through the alka, the iron ring hanging above them. The metal ring consists of three sections, each carrying a different number of points for the alkar. But the game comes with a twist — the attempts are made in full gallop. Whoever gets the most points in three rides, wins.

Not everyone can put on the colourful battle dress and be one of the 17 alka horsemen. To become an alkar, you have to be born in the Cetina region, be hawk-eyed and have a strong hand. Most importantly, you have to be honourable and honest.

Loved by many

The first Sunday in August is a day when all eyes are on the brave Croatian knights, with the Croatian president and other prominent guests being first-row spectators. Everybody in the country can watch the event as the national television covers it live. The tournament is recognized even outside the country’s borders, but the true importance of the Sinjska alka is the pride it creates in the hearts of the people. The competition is significant for life in the Cetina region and the winner is celebrated year-round.

The Sinjska alka is a big part of the Croatian culture, but when you visit Croatia you can enjoy all kinds of centuries-old activities and traditions. Let the starting point of your cultural journey be Camping Village Šimuni.