The Alka Tournament of Sinj (Sinjska alka) is a traditional equestrian competition in which the knights (alkars) on horseback, in full gallop, holding a three metres long spear, try to spear the iron ring, alka, hanging on a rope across the racecourse.
The old Statute provides that only the members of the Alka Knights Society of Sinj can be participants of the Alka Tournament, and they are to be the chaste residents of Sinj and Cetina region, born there and that their parents’ homeland is also there. The Alka of Sinj is organized on the model of medieval knight tournaments held at that time in almost all parts of Europe, especially in Mediterranean countries.
The Alka Tournament begins with a procession led by “arambaša” (chieftain) and a selected troop of Alka squires, followed by mace bearers and an armour bearer who carries the Turkish trophy shield, then follow two grooms, the guides of “edek” (a horse without a rider) on which is the trophy harness belonging, after a legend, to serascher Mehmed-pasha Čelić, a Turkish duke from the time of Sinj siege in 1715.
The troop of alkars is headed by the standard bearer and his adjutants and by the Alka Duke (the Alka master) with his adjutant. The standard bearer carries the Alka flag, while his and the Duke’s adjutants hold drawn sabres in their right hands. Behind them a troop of alkars with spears ride on horseback in double rank. “Alajčauš” (the troop commander of alkars the spearmen) is at the rear of the procession. “Arambaša” (chieftain) and the alkars’ squires walk in procession. They are armed with firelocks, yataghans and a gun, and dressed in traditional folk costumes of the Cetina region people.
The troop of alkars ride on lavishly decorated horses, dressed in the original knightly uniforms of the Sinj defenders from the beginning of the 18th century. On the alkar’s head there is a marten-fur busby and a plume of heron feathers. He wears trousers and a dolman made of the best quality deep blue baize, richly embroidered with silver braiding. A brocade waistcoat and a white shirt are under the dolman, on the feet the boots with spurs and galloons. They are armed with a wooden spear with iron point and a sabre hanging at the left thigh.
In the Alka Knights Tournament only alkars the spearmen take part, and the winner is the one who in three races, aiming at the iron ring called alka, collects the greatest number of points. The Alka ring (alka – Arab. balqa=ring) is made of wrought iron, consisting of two concentric rings with a joint centre. Measuring their inner sides, the bigger ring is 131, 7 mm in diameter, and the smaller one 35, 1 mm. The rings are mutually connected with three bars going from one ring to the other and dividing the space between the two rings into three equal parts. The rings and the bars are 6, 6 mm thick and have a sharp edge at the side which is hit by the alkar’s spear. The loop for hanging the alka is in the middle of one of the three equal bows of the bigger ring of alka. The hit into the little central ring (“u sridu”) brings three points, into the upper part two points, and the hit into one of the two lower parts brings one point. If two or more alkars have the same number of points after the third race, then the playoffs have to be run. The Alka winner is richly rewarded and the people of Sinj and of Cetina region praise him until the next year Alka as their best hero and knight.
On Sunday, in the first third of August, if not specified otherwise, procession of alkars and the alkars’ squires appear at the upper part of the racecourse, in the full splendour of antique weapons and uniforms, together with a brass band playing traditional marches.
On both sides of the racecourse are the stands for spectators coming from everywhere. Crowds of people swarm from surrounding streets to reach the scene of the tournament. The little town turns into a real Babylon in which one can hear numerous foreign languages. Past and present stand facing each other.
When the procession appears at the top of the racecourse, deep silence spreads, as if all the people were instantly possessed by the ancient call of the past. But soon the applause and shouts, cheerful laughter and whistles resound all around. The troop of squires, dressed in traditional costumes of the region, marches boldly forward. The giants, often moustached, but some beardless, heeding neither left nor right, carry long flintlock rifles on shoulders and firelocks and yataghans stuck into richly decorated waistbands, which they also call “the snake’s nest”.
Behind them a troop of alkars ride, richly dressed, with commander at the back, who is the only one in a short dolman. They are all dressed in traditional dark blue noble robes of this region with high marten-fur cylindrical busbies on their heads, and plumes of heron’s or crane’s white feathers flaunting on them. Their horses furiously prance and snort digging the sand put over the course and watered to prevent dust rising during the race.
The Alka Tournament: alkars the spearmen ride in full gallop with a 290cm to 300cm long spear aiming at alka, i.e. at two concentrically placed rings, of which the outer ring measures 131, 7 mm in diameter, and the inner 35,1mm. The rings are mutually connected with three bars going from one ring to the other, dividing the space between them into three equal parts.
The hit into the small central ring (“srida”) brings three points, the hit into the upper part brings two points, and the hit into one of the lower parts brings one point.
The alkar, riding at full gallop in the alkar manner, with his feet deep in the stirrups and without rising from the saddle, aims at alka hanging in the middle of a string stretched horizontally between two pillars stuck at the sides of the racecourse. Alka is placed at the height of 332cm, counting from its middle part to the earth. It is 160m far from Biljeg (the starting point) near Big Bridge. The alkar who has collected the greatest number of points after the third race is declared winner the champion (“slavodobitink”). If two or more alkars have the same number of points after the third round, the race has to be repeated until only one alkar has the greatest number of points. That additional playoff is called “pripetavanje” or “foranje”. There is an interesting rule of the tournament: if the alkar hits the alka and then repulses it to hit it again in the air into any of its parts so that alka remains on his spear, then the number of points scored by that hit is increased by three additional points. At the end of the tournament the Duke’s adjutant informs the Duke which alkar has the greatest number of points. Duke orders him to bring the alkar over.
After the adjutant has escorted the alkar before the Duke, Duke declares him the winner and puts the Croatian three-colour flag (“plamenac”) on his spear. That ceremonial act is accompanied by gun firing from the Old Town walls.