Sinjska alka is a traditional Croatian knightly game held every year in August. This special ceremony is played only in the city of Sinj, Croatia, and nowhere else. The game has been listed on the UNESCO European Intangible Cultural Heritage List since 2010.
In this post, we cover:
- What is Sinjska alka?
- Ceremonial procession
- Rules of the game
- Sinjska alka costumes
- History of Sinjska alka
- Fun facts about Sinjska alka
- Museum of Sinjska alka
The facts are these…
Sinjska alka is a tournament. Competitors are called “alkari”. Each alkar rides a horse in full gallop and tries to hit the steel “alka” ring with his spear. Alka hang from a rope in the air on the course. The spear is made of wood and is called “alkarsko koplje”. Spectators of Sinjska alka watch from stands on both sides of the course.
Competitors must be natives of the city of Sinj and Cetina region. Not only that, but their parents must be born here too. Every competitor must also be a member of “Viteško alkarsko društvo” (Alka Knights Society) in Sinj.
Sinjska alka is held on the first Sunday of August each year on a path called “Alkarsko trkalište”. Alkarsko trkalište starts in Biljeg, at the intersection with the Split-Vrlika road near Veliki most on Gorućica, and ends near Petrovac.
The alka ring
The alka ring called “alkarski kolut” is made of wrought iron. It consists of two rings merged into one with a shared center. At the top of the ring, there is a hook for hanging alka over the course.
The ring is divided into 4 fields that have different point values when hit. Points are called “punat” in singular and “punati” in plural. The aim is to gather as many punati as possible within the game.
Points are earned according to these values:
- Little central ring called “u sridu” – 3 punata
- Upper part of the ring – 2 punata
- Left lower part of the ring – 1 punat
- Right lower part of the ring – 1 punat
The competition of Sinjska alka begins with a ceremonial procession. At the beginning of the march, there are squires called “momci u drvoredu”. They are formed in two lines. The chieftain called “arambaša” marches between the first two squires and his assistant between the last two.
Drummers and a brass band also participate in the ceremonial march and play traditional songs. Next to them, a standard bearer called “barjaktar” wears a flag of the Alka Knights Society on his horse. He is followed by 2 to 6 escorts holding drawn sabers and riding horses.
Barjaktar is also a common participant of Croatian weddings where he usually bears the Croatian flag. [Read: How to attend a Croatian wedding]
There is also a person called “štitonoša” (shield bearer) who rides a horse between two “buzdovandžija” (mace bearers). Between the mace bearers marches a horse called “Edek” accompanied by two guides.
The procession ends with the Duke “ađutant” followed by the alkar spearmen. The commander of alkar spearmen called “alajčauš” rides his horse at the end of the procession.
The goal of the game is to hit the alka with a spear. Alkari ride deep in the saddle on the horse and aim at the alka with the spear to accumulate points.
The alka are suspended 332 centimeters above the course by a rope. Alka is located 160 meters from the starting point called “Biljeg”.
The winner of Sinjska alka is the player with the most punati collected in three races. It sometimes happens that two or more players have the same number of punati at the end of the competition. If this happens, the competition continues until there is a winner. Additional races are called “pripetavanje”.
At the end of the competition, ađutant informs the Duke which alkar has the most punati. Ađutant follows the alkar before the Duke who declares him a winner. He puts the Croatian three-color flag called “plamenac” on his spear. Guns from the Old Town walls fire in the background of the ceremony. [Read: Meaning behind the flag of Croatia]
All competitors of Sinjska alka wear an ancient Croatian knight’s uniform. Uniforms are made of different cuts and colors, decorated with ornaments. Every uniform consists of pants, a shirt, a jacket, and a silk belt. Alkari wear a hat called “kalpak” decorated with “čelenka”, a white plume made of crane feathers.
Horses of alkari are decorated with golden and silver “pusata” and decorated reins. Saddles are covered with a canvas decorated with a binder, ribbons, tassels, and silver ornaments.
The squires and other participants of the ceremonial procession are dressed in traditional folk costumes called “narodna nošnja”. Some of them have flowers and others wear rifles called “kremenača”. Drummers and trumpeters are dressed in simple traditional costumes and wear red hats decorated with flowers.
Sinjska alka dates back to the 18th century. In 1715, the Ottoman army tried to conquer the fortress of Sinj. Through Sinj, they would reach the heart of Europe. However, Croats from the Cetinska krajina defeated the Ottoman army, significantly impacting the future of Croatia.
In honor of this great victory, residents of Cetinska krajina invented Sinjska alka. The game symbolizes the heroism of residents of Cetinska krajina, the spirit of defense against the enemy, and competition in nobility, honesty, and work.
This competition has been held every year since its founding. In 2020, the 305th competition was held. Sinjska alka is a frequent motif used in Croatian stories, art, sculptures, literature, and music.
In 1979, Sinjska alka was declared a movable cultural monument of the highest category. It was also listed on the UNESCO European Intangible Cultural Heritage List on November 15, 2010.
The competition with the most won points was held in 1931. Alkar Nikola Jelinčić won with 16 conquered punata after 5 additional rounds of pripetavanje.
The competition with the smallest number of points was held in 1979. Alkar Dušan Dinarina won the competition with only 5 conquered punata.
Sinjska alka has been observed by 2 emperors, 4 kings, and 5 presidents.
Emperor who watched Sinjska alka were:
- Franjo I. (Austrian emperor) in 1818
- Franjo Josip (Austro-Hungarian emperor) in 1875
Kings who watched Sinjska alka were:
- Friedrich August (Saxon king) in 1838
- Petar Karađorđević (king of Croats, Serbs, and Slovenians) in 1919
- Aleksandar Karađorđević (king of Yugoslavia) in 1922
- Ferdinand (Romanian king) in 1922
Presidents who watched Sinjska alka were:
- Josip Broz Tito in 1965
- Franjo Tuđman in 1990, 1992, and 1997
- Stjepan Mesić in 2007 and 2009
- Ivo Josipović in 2010 and 2014
- Kolinda Grabar Kitarović from 2015 to 2019
Sinjska alka was held outside of Sinj in:
- Split in 1831 on the occasion of a release from prison of a resident of Sinj
- Beograd in 1922 on the occasion of the wedding of Aleksandar Karađorđević I with Romanian princess Mary
- Zagreb in 1946 on the occasion of the 3rd congress of USOJ (United Alliance of Anti-Fascist Youth of Yugoslavia)
- Vukovar in 2017 as a gift of the city of Sinj and Cetinska krajina to the city of Vukovar
The museum of Sinjska alka is located in Sinj (view map).
Museum ticket prices:
- Children of preschool age – 10 kuna
- Students – 30 kuna
- Retired persons – 30 kuna
- Adult persons – 50 kuna
- Groups – 40 kuna
- Family ticket (parents with children) – 100 kuna
Professional tour guides are available for:
- Croatian language – 100 kuna per group
- English language – 200 kuna per group
One group can consist of 5 to 50 people. Group visits must be announced in advance at [email protected] or by calling the number +385 (0)21 444 730. Reservation of a congress hall is available via the same contact.
Online museum tickets are available here.
Visit the official web site here.
View other Croatian games
Please note: All information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal advice in any form. For legal advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. We can recommend one if you contact us.