Skip to Content

Camel Wrestling Comes To Fethiye

Share this article

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.

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 meat, 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.

Camel Wrestling Crowds

The crowds packed into the ‘stadium’

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 Wrestling, Turkey

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 Bout

The beginning of a camel 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.)

Share this article

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Turkey's For Life

Tuesday 7th of February 2012

@ 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. ;)


Tuesday 7th of February 2012

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. :)

Turkey's For Life

Monday 14th of February 2011

@ 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!

Italian Notes

Monday 14th of February 2011

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.

Turkey's For Life

Thursday 10th of February 2011

@ 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.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.