In honour and glory of our Blessed lady
This year, during the first August weekend a 300 years old edition of Sinjska alka shall take place and streets of Sinj shall witness the revival of the history of that small town and the surrounding area
In August 1715 around 600 warriors of the Cetina district defended their homes and stood against fearsome force of the Ottoman conquerors. Their prayers of faith in that troublesome moment addressing the Virgin Mary made impossible come true: they defeated a hundred times bigger Turkish army and defended their city. In honour of that incredible victory Sinjska alka was established.
This unique equestrian tournament has developed into a symbol of heroism and freedom of the Cetina district celebrating honour, hope and faith. Alka has been growing its roots since times when Europe hosted many similar knight tournaments, but only Alka withstood the time and has survived for three centuries, therefore it has been inscribed in UNESCO intangible cultural heritage.
The cult of the Lady and Alka was established by Sinj Franciscans and Venetian authorities creating the foundation of the specific Cetina district collective identity. This year, over the first weekend in August the 300th edition of Sinjska alka shall take place and the history and ancient spirit of this petite city and its district shall resurrect in the streets of Sinj. City will be swarmed with thousands of spectators from all over the world, grandstands will be packed with respectable faces and tourists and proud equestrians shall whoosh along the race track in the full splendour of antique weapons and uniforms.
The first Statute of Alka – precisely describes old traditions, origins, purpose and the manner of racing – derives from 1833 and its provisions are almost identical to those of knight competitions in the area of the Venetian Republic. Exclusively knights competed in these tournaments, meaning only the privileged class, nevertheless Sinjska alka introduced from the beginning a significant innovation: along with military aristocracy commoners were allowed to take part spicing up the whole game with the tone of folk energy.
The exclusive pedigree of Alkar families originates from Sinj and Cetina district, bringing out a special cult of warrior pride and aristocracy among the people of this area. The ceremony involves the selected equestrian-knight troops, but also troops of village foot soldiers. Even though Alka derives from West European tradition of knighthood, it has turned into Sinj folk tournament, Sinj and Cetina people identify with. Sinjska alka is a tilting competition where horsemen on horseback at full gallop with a three meters long lance aim for an iron ring (alka) hanging on a rope across the racing track.
The competition starts with procession led by arambaša (chieftain) and the chosen troop of Alkar lads followed by a macebearer and a shield bearer holding Ottoman shield as a trophy, proceeded by the guides of Edeka – a caparisoned horse bearing only trophy gear belonging according to the legend to Mehmed-paša Čelić, a Turkish Warlord from the time of Sinj siege in 1715. The colour bearer with adjutants and the Alka Duke with adjutant lead the Alkar troops. The colour bearer carries the Alka flag and adjutants together with the Duke’s adjutant drawn sabres in their right hand. Alkar troops with spears ride behind them in double rank. Alajčauš – the troop commander of Alkar spearmen stands at the rear of procession. Arambaša and Alkar lads march behind armed with holster pistols (kubura), yathagans and guns dressed in ceremonial traditional uniforms of the Cetina district.
Alkar troops wearing original knight robes of the Sinj defenders dating from the 18th century ride lavishly decorated horses. Only Alkar spearmen take part in the jousting Alka tournament and the winner is the one who in three races collects the most points. Piercing through the small middle ring – the centre (u sridu) – brings three points, the upper part two, one point for one of the two lower parts of the ring (punat). In case one or two contestants after the race have equal score, playoffs are being held (pripetavanje). Alka winner (slavodobitnik) gets a good reward and the Sinj crowd celebrates and honours him as a hero and a knight until the next Alka.
Alka used to be held in different time of the year, sometimes even twice. In 1849 it used to be held on 18 August, the birthday of Emperor Franz Joseph, since 1902 it has been held during the first third of August. 1818 plays significant role in the history of Alka, because the Austrian emperor and King Franz I in his journey through Dalmatia visited Sinj and the local people arranged the ceremony of Alka in his honour. Emperor awarded the winner with a brilliant ring, and the community with Emperor’s Flag. Ever since then the winner would get 100 forints award from Vienna, being an important support for preservation of this old, but also very expensive tilting tournament.
However, the Alka of Sinj has always been under influence of politics of the present government. In 1919 Alka was held in honour of the King Peter I Karađorđević. In 1965 Josip Broz Tito visited the 250th Alka and in 1990, 1992 and 1997 honourable Alka guest was the president of Croatia Franjo Tuđman. Stjepan Mesić as the president of the Republic of Croatia has been its sponsor and even today eminent political names and presidents of governments have been guests in prominent Alka loggias. Nikola Cerinić won Alka 12 times, being the highest number of victories (he competed in the period of 1867 till 1899) than Nikola Jelinčić (eight victories), followed by Jozo Boko, Janko Kelava, Anđelko Vučković and Ognjen Preost, all of them winning five times.