Camel Wrestling Comes To Fethiye

Yesterday, traditions usually associated with the Aegean region of Turkey headed south to the Fethiye region (the village of Karaçulha) and those who chose to attend were treated to a mini camel wrestling festival. I say ‘mini’ because I’ve seen photos of the size of the crowds attracted by the Selçuk Festival which can apparently reach upwards of 20,000. Yesterday’s festival was in a much smaller enclosure with probably around two to three thousand in attendance. Not many more could have squeezed in, health and safety went through the window and the celebratory, party atmosphere commenced.

Turkish camel sucuk

Yes. Even some of the sucuk was made from camel meat!

We had no idea what to expect as we paid our entrance fee and slipped between the two lorries acting as the entrance gate. Straight away, our nostrils were filled with the wafting aromas of lokma, döner kebab, köfte, kavurma.

But none of these smells beckoned us to where they were coming from. It was too late. The tuna sandwiches we had packed were immediately demoted to ‘we can have those for tea’ and we hit the sucuk stand; the stand that read, ‘Deve ve Dana Sucukları.’ Camel and Beef Sucuk. Yesterday was most certainly in celebration of the camel!

First, a sample. Delightful! Then, long thin slithers of sizzling beef sucuk were pushed to one side and fresh Turkish bread was sliced in half and placed onto the griddle, soaking up the juices from the spicy meat. The sucuk was slapped on the bread and topped with crispy lettuce and onion and chilli flakes. 5 lira’s worth of unhealthy bliss.

Packed Crowds For The Camel Wrestling in Fethiye

The crowds packed in to see this rare camel wrestling event in Fethiye

Armed with our sandwich, we weaved our way through the crowds, trying to find a good viewing speck. Apart from the ‘V.I.P Area’ (I use the term loosely!) there were no official seating areas and, even more noticeably, no barriers between the crowd and the camels. Time to muse to ourselves, ‘Well, I guess they know what they’re doing.’

We decided to get some height by following the crowds up a set of hastily thrown together wooden steps and onto the flat roof of a building. Musings changed to, ‘Well, we still can’t see and I’m pretty sure this building was not designed for all these people to be sitting on!’ We pushed our way back to ground level and found a decent viewing point and got our first view of the camels parading the enclosure.

Camel in Fethiye

There’s a certain majesty about these lovely creatures

These are huge beasts, apparently specially bred. Bigger than any camels we’ve ever seen before. Huge, hairy front legs and necks. If you’ve read or seen Michael Palin’s New Europe, you’ll know that the camels are usually owned by wealthy businessmen and the best camels draw bigger crowds and the most money. These camels are the race horses of the camel world.

And then a steward came over to our area, ‘Aç. Aç. Aç.’ (Open, open, open). Around 100 people picked up their plastic chairs and we all pushed to the side as the camels were walked out of the ring, right next to us. The gap quickly closed again and normal positions were resumed. Is this normal? We have no idea but it was certainly interesting. These camels demand your attention.

A few camels remained in the area being walked around, foaming at the mouth, foam bubbles floating off into the sky. These camels are hot-blooded males. It’s rutting season and they’re ready for some action. Other males are obviously rivals for the lady’s affections – hence the ‘wrestling.’

Camel Wrestling in Fethiye

The beginning of a ‘wrestling’ bout

The bouts we saw were very short. The camels walked around and around, commentary blasting over the loud speaker system, village band parading…and nothing really happened for ten minutes or so. And then, all of a sudden, two camels took a dislike to each other. They meet, necks intertwine and there’s a bit of tussling. Eventually, one is stronger than the other and – as in human wrestling – manages to get its opponent on its knees and neck pinned to the floor. A count of three (or so) and the camels are pulled apart and the crowd applauds. We actually missed the first bout because we didn’t realise what was going on.

A couple of bouts and a few more encounters with passing camels later, we’d seen what we came to see and really enjoyed the experience. Apparently, it’s traditionally a man thing, this camel watching business. Well, maybe it’s a sign of the times as yesterday was a family day, complete with fairground for those kids who looked thoroughly bored by the whole camel event. As dad’s jumped up and down, gleefully shouting, ‘Maşallah! Maşallah!’ towards the camels and having a thoroughly good time, kids looked around nonchalantly, eating lokma and hassling mum to take them to the dodgems. Well, you can’t please everyone!

(Maşallah is difficult to describe. It’s a term of endearment, often used in Turkey towards babies and some animals (it appears camels make the grade). The person saying the word is wishing protection upon the person or animal from Allah.)

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  1. Hello there! Isn’t this camel wrestling just amazing? We witnessed it for the first time on Jan 2 in Ezine near Çanakkale and I found it MOST exciting!!! Great photo opps! I wrote a blog about it too!! You have a great blog!


  2. I am going to see them on the 28th in Soke. Personally I think they are dirty creatures but hey it is a day out. Now I know what to expect as well.

  3. This would be so fun to see. Now I’ve seen big camels before in zoos, but that first one you took a photo of just looks big. I can just imagine what kind of match it would have been.

  4. This is the ONE thing in Turkey that I really wanted to check out but didn’t manage! I’m just so intrigued, even though camels kind of freak me out. I’m always scared they’re going to spit at me and it’ll hit me so hard, I’ll fall over. I dunno…it could happen.

  5. @ Claudia: Thanks. We really like your blog, too! :)Will look out for your camel post. Yeah, not sure what we were expecting really but we came away happy. I bet you were in a bigger area than us, too. Amazing experience.

    @ Natalie: We’ve always been fond of camels. These camels are a special bunch. Huge creatures. I bet your experience is gonna be on a much larger scale than this. 🙂

    @ Steve: What we saw was actually very tame. I suspect things could get quite rough in the bigger events. Ours was a playschool one in comparison – thankfully. Amazing animals. We’re camel converts! 🙂

    @ Connie: Aww, they’re lovely…when they’re in a good mood. 🙂 These weren’t in the mood for spitting. They were looking for a lady! 🙂

  6. I learned something new today! Never heard of camel wrestling. Sounds like one of those cultural experiences that you enjoy when you grow up with them and part of the fun is the whole ambiance of the event with the food and the crowd energy. Nice camel pictures. They do look different than the camels I’ve seen in Egypt and other places.

  7. @ Miss Footloose: Thanks. Very different to the camels we’ve seen too! The atmosphere was great because of the food and the village musicians and everyone was in good spirits.

  8. This is so interesting! I’ve never seen a camel outside of a zoo, but hope to sometime. Loved reading about your camel wrestling experience. Great pics, too.

  9. Unbelievable!! I have never heard of this before. This is now on my *must see* list. It looked like an incredible event to attend. Great story and pics. Cheers!

  10. Beautiful photo of that camel. What an interesting read. Could you teach us how to pronounce your home town Fethiye??

  11. WOW!! I wish I was there!! Fascinating they call it wrestling. Fantastic photos – almost like I was there (but sadly, not).

  12. Aww those camels look so fluffy! I saw one similar in Inner Mongolia, gorgeous 😀

  13. Wow! What an experience! This sounds really interesting. And you ate camel too!

  14. I haven’t heard of camel wrestling before! How unusual they were racing them and selling their meat a sucuk!

    The camels here looks a lot different to those from the Emirates – these are a lot more hairy.

  15. @ Cathy: Yes, it certainly was an experience.
    @ Peter: We’ve been intending to go for a long time. Luckily, the event came to us instead of the other way round.
    @ John: Gonna start linking to our ‘how to pronounce Fethiye’ post, I think! 🙂
    @ Belinda: Yeah, it is like they’re wrestling – but with their necks.
    @ Angela: I think these camels are Iranian camels bred with a different breed so they end up being really big.
    @ Kelly: It appears we did – and it was good!! 🙂
    @ Corinne: Yeah, these are the hairiest camels we’ve ever seen!

  16. The things people will do to entertain never ceases to amaze me. 🙂 It sounds like quite an interesting experience!

  17. @ Christy: Same here! It was something we felt we had to go and see. Yes, it was very interesting. The camels were beautiful.

  18. Fabulous post. I have tried to get to the ‘real thing’ in Selcuk for quite some time now but somehow always get the date wrong. Should have come visit you in

  19. @ Inka: Thanks. I think the Selcuk events are in January aren’t they? Natlie @ TurkishTravelBlog is going to one in Soke on the 28th of this month. Don’t think that’s too far away from you, is it?
    You’ll make it Fethiye one of these days…or we’ll get to your side. 🙂

  20. Those camels do indeed look specially bred – much more muscly than say, Egyptian ones.
    The sucuq sounds ridiculously good.

    And thanks so much for your kind comment at TBEX 🙂

  21. I have wanted to go to see Camel wrestling for some time, have managed to see a bit of oil wrestling in İstanbul. One question Julia, was that camel sucuk or beef sucuk you had?

  22. @ Robin: The sucuk was fantastic. Like a good chorizo is good! 🙂 You can thank Barry for the TBEX comment. He chuckles at your comments on an almost daily basis!

    @ Simcha: We’d love to watch the oil wrestling. They have competitions in a village not far from here and we’ve still never made it.

    Ahh, now the sucuk. The guy was selling both. We thought he was only cooking the beef one but it did look very different and had a different texture. We spoke with a sucuk-loving Turkish friend last night and it appears we had camel sucuk. If we did, I can highly recommend it. 🙂

  23. What an interesting experience. I’ve never heard of such a thing before. But hey, you get any kind of sport together, a big crowd, and great food, and I’m there!

  24. @ Adam: We’d never heard of it till we came to Turkey. It’s an odd one isn’t it – in celebration of the camel apparently. The food was great! Always is at events like this, isn’t it?

  25. Fascinating post, I too didn’t know camel wrestling existed. What an experience.

  26. @ Laurel: Looks like everyone’s going to know about it soon! 🙂 An ‘experience’ is a good way to describe it.

  27. Camel wrestling sounds fascinating! I’d never even heard of it before…It sounds like quite an experience.

  28. @ Michael: Most definitely fascinating. I can’t think of anythong we’ve seen like that before! 🙂

  29. I had no idea that Camel Wrestling existed! Wow, Turkey is so full of surprises! And, those camels are HUGE!

  30. @ Norbert: We’ve been here 7 years and are still surprised by what we see! The camels were the biggest we’ve ever seen!

  31. I was so pleased to read that it wasn’t humans wrestling camels!
    What a great event. I’d love to go along and experience it for myself.
    And I DID check out your `how to pronounce Fethiye” post. Fet-hi-yah — how does that sound?

  32. @ The Dropout: I think we would have drawn the line there and given the whole event a miss! I dread to think.
    Ha ha, can’t believe you looked at that post. Not bad, not bad! :))

  33. Wow! I wish we had seen camel wrestling when we were in Turkey. All the more reason to return. And I agree with Norbert, those camels are HUGE.

    Very, very cool.

  34. @ Jillian: It’s taken us an age to get round to it – and even then, camel wrestling came to Fethiye. We didn’t go to IT. The cames are quite immense aren’t they?!

  35. Wow – they certainly are impressive! How interesting and entertaining

  36. @ Andrea: Very. We had a great day. Seen it now though. Not sure if we’d go again – maybe in Selcuk where the big event is.

  37. Don’øt think I’ve ever seen a camel in Turkey, although I’ve lived in Istanbul for at year. Just goes to show that I must get back and travel around more often.

  38. @ Italian Notes: They’re not used as they once were. Camel wrestling and tourist ferrying seems to be their curent purpose. Quite jealous you lived in Istanbul for a year. 🙂 Would love to do that!

  39. oh my goodness- I’m sooo glad I came to read the back post to your newer post- I would never have imagined this was what was behind camel wrestling- somehow I thought it was humans on the top of camels fighting with each other- ha ha- yep that is me and my ‘animal challenged’ brain- serves me right for growing up in Singapore 🙂

    Why the foaming at the mouth?? Do they give the camels something which cause them to foam- or is that just their normal ‘thing’ when they are wrestling?

    The food seemed to capture your interest- so now I see why on your second visit to the wrestling match that took the focus. 🙂

  40. @ Anjuli: The camels are foaming at the mouth because they’re males and it’s mating season. They’re looking for a lady. 😉

    That’s why the camel wrestling takes place at this time of year – it’s the only time the males are likely to want to ‘wrestle’. Sometimes though, they make two of the camels ‘meet’ and they don’t want to fight so they walk them off again. 🙂

    We love our food. 😉

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