The Sinjska alka [siɲska alka] is an equestrian competition held in the Croatian town of Sinj every first Sunday in August since 1717. It commemorates a Croatian-Venetian victory over Ottomans on August 14, 1715 in which the local Christian population of around 700 Croats in cooperation with a smaller number of Venetians managed to defend Sinj against 60,000 Ottoman soldiers led by Mehmed-paša Ćelić. Because of this victory, the Venetians retained control over Sinj and integrated it into the Venetian Dalmatia, according to the terms of the Treaty of Passarowitz signed in 1718. The people of Sinj believe that the Lady of Sinj miraculously drove away Ottomans, thus helping them to defend their town. On the national holiday of the Assumption of Mary (Velika Gospa) on August 15, in honor of Lady of Sinj, a procession is organised, during which horsemen in full regalia ("Alkari") parade a painting of Our Lady of Sinj throughout the town streets.
The Alka itself is an equestrian competition in which various horsemen riding at full gallop aim their lances at a hanging metal ring (alka), and are awarded points according to which sector of the ring they are able to pierce. In 2010, the Alka was inscribed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.
Alka is also the name of the object used in the tournament; it is made of two concentric rings (diameter of inner being 35.1 mm, and 131.7 mm of outer one) connected with three bars 120° apart. The object is hung on a rope 3.32 metres above the race track. The contestant (called an alkar) rides his horse down the race track and tries to hit the central ring of the alka with his spear in full gallop. Depending on which part of the alka he hits, he receives from 1 to 3 points, and no points if he misses. If, however, the alkar sends the alka in the air away from its holder and hits any part of it on its way down, he will be awarded 1-3 points for a target hit and an additional three points, thus increasing the maximum to 6 points in one run. The contest consists of three rounds.
Only men born in Sinjska krajina (city of Sinj and surrounding villages) can take part in the Alka and it is considered a great privilege to participate in the tournament. The vojvoda ("Duke") of Alka is a ceremonial title representing the commander of the alkars. It is a great honour to become the alkar vojvoda, and only the most notable men from Sinjska krajina become one. The costumes worn by the alkar men are the same that were worn by the warriors in the 18th century.
Sinjska Alka was created in the early 18th century as a continuation of knightly competitions that were held across the Venetian Dalmatia: Zadar, Imotski and Makarska. The oldest written mention of Alka are in the three sonnets and an ode written by the Italian poet Julije Bajamonti in 1784. The oldest official file about Alka is a letter of the first Austrian Commissioner for the Austria Dalmatia Count Raymond Thurn that he wrote to the commander of Sinj Josip Grabovac on February 10, 1798. In the letter Count Thurn informs Commander Grabovac that the Palatine Commission from Vienna "approved further maintenance of Alka in Sinj on the last day of the carnival".
At the past Alka was organised at a different time than today, occasionally twice a year (in years: 1798 (the last day of the carnival and on 9 May) and in 1818 (on 15 May and 6 July)). In 1834 it was organised on 9 February, in 1838 on April 19, and in 1855 on October 4 because of cholera. Alka is organised regularly on August 18, which is the birthday of Emperor Franz Joseph, since 1849, as determined by the Statute of 1902. Since then, Alka is organised in August (and under the new rules), in the first third of the month, so that Bara, Čoja and Alka could be organised in the same month.
In 1818, during his trip through Dalmatia, the Emperor Francis II visited Sinj, and the locals organized a special Alka in his honor. The Emperor awarded the winner with a brilliant ring worth 800 forints. Also, by 1818, Vienna was rewarding the winner with a prize of 100 florins, and this was probably main reason for the continuation of this knightly tournament. When the Emperor Franz Joseph rose to power in 1848 he established the award in the amount of 100 forints. From 1902 to 1914 prize awarded to winner was 4000 crowns, and from 1914 to 1918 it was 600 crowns.
Alka was repeatedly organised during the visits of rulers or other very important people. On March 28, 1842 Alka was organised in honor of the Austrian Archduke Albrecht during his visit to Sinj, and in the same year on October 22 in honor of the Austrian Archduke Franz Karl. On May 18, 1875 Emperor Franz Joseph visited Sinj. In his honor people of Sinj organised extraordinary solemn Alka. The winner was Mate Bonić. The Emperor awarded him with a gold ring.
Alka was organised three times outside of Sinj: in 1832 in Split, in 1922 in Belgrade and in 1946 in Zagreb. Vicko Grabovac was the longest-running Alka Duke with 28 commands over Alka festivities (1908-1936). Bruno Vuletić was Alka Duke 21 times (1964-1985) and Ivan Vuletić 17 times (1872 - 1894).
Alka is an individual equestrian competition in which at least 11 and at most 17 Alkars can participate. The Alkar, a rider on horseback, has to pass the racecourse length 160 m in full gallop in 12 seconds and try to hit the center of a small iron ring called Alka. The Alka is at 3.32 m height, measured from its center to the ground. The Custodian of the Alka (Najmeštač Alke) and his assistant have the responsibility for the proper placement and height of the Alka; the Custodian steadies the pendant ring with a 3.22 m long stick and simultaneously controls the height of it, while his assistant tightens the rope on which the ring hangs.
The Alka is a ring made of wrought iron and made up of two circuits: the smaller (3.51 cm), and the larger (13.1 cm). The hoops are connected by three arms of which the outer circle divides it into three equal sections. Rims and spokes of Alka are 6.6 mm thick and have a pointed edge on the side facing the Alkar. The loop on which Alka hangs is located on half of one of three equal spans of the larger Alka circle. The aim of the game is to collect as many points in three attempts. During the race, all equipment has to remain on the horse and Alkar, and not one single piece may be allowed to fall off. If this happens without the Alkar being aware of it, he must subsequently seek permission from the Alka Duke for another attempt. However, if an Alkar notices that any item of equipment has fallen off, he must run through with his "spear lowered" without hitting the Alka.
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