ALKA OF SINJ


The Sinjska Alka chivalric competition
The Sinjska Alka is a chivalric tournament that takes place annually, as it has since 1717, in the town of Sinj, in the Cetinska krajina region. During the contest, knights ride horses at full gallop along a main street, aiming lances at an iron ring hanging on a rope. The name of the tournament derives from this alka or ring, a word whose Turkish origin reflects the historical co-existence and cultural exchange between two different civilizations. The tournament rules, codified in a 1833 statute, promote ethics and fair play, and stress the importance of participation in community life. Participants must be members of local families of Sinj and the Cetinska krajina region. The whole community helps to make, conserve, restore and reconstruct weapons, clothes and accessories to support the continuation of the tradition. The tournament is also entwined with local religious practices, social gatherings, family visits and festivities at home and in the open air. The Sinjska Alka is the only remaining example of the medieval knightly competitions that were regularly held in the Croatian coastal towns until the nineteenth century. It has become a marker of local history and a medium for transferring collective memory from one generation to another.

Identification of the communities
The Chivalric Society of the Alka in the town of Sinj is the local association responsible for ensuring the continuation of the tradition of the tournament, which includes securing the conditions for the transmission of skills and for the logistical preparation of the tournament. Besides the mentioned association, the whole community, the people of the Cetinje region and the town of Sinj take part in the preparation of the tournament. Until today, almost for three centuries, they have been engaging in the activities that unfold during the tournament days, thus transmitting various forms and expressions of the intangible cultural heritage to younger generations.

Geographic location and range of the element
The Alka tournament takes place in the town of Sinj, in the Cetinje region, within the borders of the Republic of Croatia. The specificity of the location is reflected in the Alka tournament, as is the region's and the town's history. The Alka has been continually held in the same place for nearly three centuries. The Cetinje region is officially part of the Dalmatian hinterland (which encompasses about 1,000 km²) situated between the two parallel mountain chains of Svilaja and Dinara, with the River Cetina flowing through a long depression whose base is formed by the fields of Cetina, Vrlika, Hrvace and Sinj. With its magnificent shape and length, and the diversity of its underground and surface crags, the Dinara Mountain has given its name to the biggest mountain chain on the Balkan Peninsula.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE ELEMENT
The Sinjska Alka – a Knights’ Tournament in Sinj was founded in the 18th century in honour of Our Lady (in Catholic Christianity: Mary, Mother of Jesus) who, according to the beliefs of local people, saved the city. It has been held continuously for nearly three centuries in accordance with a strictly codified decree. The Sinjska Alka has preserved its authenticity by melding ancient local, oriental and Venetian influences that are reflected in rich historical costumes and strict and elaborate rules. This syncretism is a typical result of the historical co-existence of two different civilisations spanning the borders of Catholicism and Islam. It is also mirrored in the terminology used in the tournament and the etymology of its name (the term ‘alka’ comes from the Turkish ‘halka’ meaning a ring or door-knocker). It is the only authentic remnant of ancient medieval knightly competitions that were regularly held in the Croatian coastal towns until the 19th century. The Sinjska Alka was, therefore, given a prominent place in literature, the plastic arts, painting and music and has remained the single most important annual social event.

IDENTIFICATION AND DEFINITION
Although its focal point is winning the main tournament, the Sinjska Alka is actually a set of events taking place over a number of days in the wider area of Sinj and the Cetinje region during which the actual participants of the Sinjska Alka–alkars, their men and the musicians accompanying them – mingle with cheerful crowds in the street and among the spectators. The tournament is held on the first Sunday in August.
The Sinjska Alka is a chivalric competition where knights riding horses at full gallop, not slower than 45 km/h, holding lances (poles) 290-300 centimetres long, aim at an iron ring hanging on a rope, at a height of 3.22 metres over the course on one of the main streets of the town of Sinj. The ring (‘alka’ – the original Arabic name ‘halqa’ entered the Croatian language through the Turkish word ‘halka’) is made of two concentric rings connected with three bars. When a knight strikes through the inner circle, the city music starts playing and a volley of artillery fire sounds three times in a row (this is called ‘Mačkule’). If a knight, while aiming at the ring, bounces it and somehow manages to hit it again while it is in the air (no matter in which partition) and if it remains on his lance, three extra points are added to those won by the strike.
(This was the case that Dinko Šimunović, a writer, described in his story ‘The Alkar’ which was translated into many different languages, including Chinese). Very often there is an extra race known as the ‘pripetavanje’ for those knights who have the same number of points after three attempts. The winner receives a generous yet symbolic reward, as well as money to be spent on a celebration to which all the participants of the contest are invited.
Two main rehearsals take place prior to the main tournament, which are both accompanied by a great number of spectators and preparations for the main event. On Friday, the rehearsal is called the ‘bara’ and on Saturday the ‘čoja’, during which knights wear casual clothes instead of the solemn costume.
The smallest number of competitors is 11, the greatest 15, exceptionally 17 including the ‘alajčauš’, the commander of the knights' troop.
Only those who have never been in trouble with the law and were born there, and whose ancestors originate from the Cetinje region can become knights and participate in the tournament.
Originating at the beginning of the 18th century, the Alka tournament of Sinj is an example of the survival and transformation of one of numerous chivalric competitions held in some cities along the coast of Croatia. During the 19th century this tournament was organised in Makarska, Zadar, and Imotski, and earlier even in Split and Dubrovnik, on the islands of Krk, Rab, Hvar, the Istrian peninsula and elsewhere.
The first Statute of the Alka was carefully drawn up in 1833 based on the tradition, describing in detail the origins of the Alka, its purpose and the way of running it. This Statute is the basis for today's tournament which is constantly being recreated and complemented with many unwritten rules.
Many intangible elements belong to the tournament, although they are not so obvious: conservation, restoration and reconstruction of a great amount of different parts of alkars’ weapons, clothes and accessories help to preserve the continuation of the tradition, such as traditional shoe making, garment making (sewing and weaving), jewellery making, etc. Another aspect of the tournament is the religious practices and worship of the local people, social gathering, family visits, celebration parties that take place in homes, as well as the expression of festive feelings in the open.
What also makes the Sinjska Alka special is the fact that a chivalric tradition is being constantly revitalised at the very time when the traditional characteristics of the authentic culture upon which it is based and within which it was created are becoming assimilated and stratified under the weight of IT globalization and modern civilization achievements. That the Sinjska Alka is deeply rooted in the spiritual and physical space of the Cetinje region is also reflected in the ‘alkarići’ (small alkars – knights), boys who practise riding and aiming at the ring with their lances and maintaining the equipment, all of which introduces them to the specific code of ethics of the alkars and helps them learn about the glorious times of their ancestors and famous tournaments. They are the future generations of knights (‘alkars’) and their men. Established at the beginning of the 18th century and based on Venitian and oriental chivalric traditions, the Sinjska Alka soon became a typically local phenomenon which cannot be eradicated. In its heroic spirit, splendour and wealth of costumes and weaponry, these chivalric games have preserved the memory of the famous victory and made the local people, whose frame of mind is best mirrored in the world of epic poems and stories, proud and self-confident. In its three centuries of continuous existence, the Sinjska Alka has become a summary of local history and a medium for transferring collective memory from one generation to another. At certain points in history, it was even regarded as a substitute for freedom.