'A collection of BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES OF CELEBRATED ATHLETES OF THE NORTHERN RING'

taken from 'NORTH COUNTRY SPORTS AND PASTIMES' published in 1893

Wrestling in Turkey

 

THE following account of a modern Wrestling Match in Turkey , is so graphically related that we feel confident it will be perused with interest by most readers. We may remark by the way, that the gipsies who figure in the match are of the same race as their namesakes in England and other parts of Europe; but they preserve in Turkey more of their Oriental appearance and character. The writer is Lieut. - Colonel James Baker of the Auxiliary Forces, who published a book on Turkey - in - Europe, in 1877.

'I passed through a fine town called Barakli-Djumaa, in the middle of the plain [of Seres], and inhabited principally by Christian Bulgarians. A great wrestling match was going on just outside the town, and I stopped to witness the sport. A circle about thirty yards in diameter was formed by the men, women, and children, Turks, Bulgarians, and a plentiful supply of gipsies all sitting closely packed together round the circumference. There was the usual accompaniment of a gipsy band, composed of a drum and a clarionet, which was kept going continuously. A competitor, stripped to the waist, steps into the ring and walks round with a grand air as he displays his muscular frame to the admiring gaze of the bystanders. Presently his antagonist enters the ring, and both competitors shake hands in a good natured way, and a little laughing and chaffing goes on. They then commence walking round, every now and then turning in to shake hands again, until suddenly one pounces upon the other to get the "catch," and the struggle commences. No kicking is allowed, and the throw must lay the vanquished man upon his back, so that both shoulder- blades touch the ground at the same time. The champion was a burly Bulgarian of herculean strength, when at the invitation of some black-eyed gipsy girls, a fine but slim young fellow of their tribe entered the lists against him ; but, although considering his youth he made a gallant struggle, a quick throw laid him sprawling on his back, to the evident chagrin and disappointment of the gipsy women. Their eyes flashed with anger as they now held a hurried consultation, when off started a very pretty girl evidently bound upon some errand. She soon returned with one of the most splendid specimens of humanity I ever saw. If, as is asserted, there were princes and dukes amongst the ancient tribe of gipsies who emigrated to Europe , this must certainly have been a descendant of one of them.

His fair escort pushed him into the ring with an air of pride and confidence, as much as to say, "Now, you shall see what a gipsy can do" The young man was about twenty-five years of age, and nearly six feet high, with a handsome, aristocratic, and cheery countenance; and as he took off his jacket and handed it to his fair one, and thus stood stripped to the waist, there was a buzz of admiration from the whole crowd. He was slightly made, but all was sinew. Laughingly, and half modestly, he shook his powerful antagonist by the hand, and then the walk round commenced, the young gipsy talking and laughing all the time. It seemed as though neither liked to be the first to begin ; when suddenly the Bulgarian turned sharp upon his antagonist, and tried a favourite catch, but quick as lightning the lithe figure of the gipsy eluded the grasp, and a sigh of relief went up from his clan. The excitement was now intense, and the young girl perfectly quivered with nervous anxiety as she watched every movement of her swain. She would have made a splendid picture ! They were still walking round, and it seemed as though the struggle would never begin, when, lo ! a simultaneous cry went forth from the whole crowd, as the great Bulgarian lay sprawling, and half stunned, upon the ground.

The movements of the gipsy had been so quick, that it was impossible to say how the throw was done, but the Bulgarian was turned almost a somersault in the air, and came down with a heavy thud. The young champion shook him by the hand, lifted the heavy man high into the air, and then set him on his feet. The face of the young girl, as she handed back her hero his jacket, was pleasant to look upon. Lucky man ! As she took him by the hand, and led him away to wherever he came from, I began to think there might be a worse fate than being a gipsy.

I was so attracted by the wrestling scene at Barakli-Djumaa, that I lost much time, and had to push on quickly, in order that we might reach a khan, perched up in a small village amongst the mountains which lay between us and Salonica.