The Alkar knights’ game in Sinj

by Vesna Balta on November 5, 2013

Alkar riderThe Game of Thrones has become a hit television series, produced by HBO. The series is set on two fictional continents and follows the members of several noble houses in a civil war for the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms. The story is not entirely fictional, it seems to be inspired by England in the 15th-century, when the Wars of the Roses was fought between the Yorks and Lancasters.

Historical and fantasy television series such as Game of Thrones have encouraged a renewed interest in medieval history, and many places with a dramatic historic past have gained recognition and interest as tourist destinations.

2013-10-31 10.02.25 (Large)One such place is the town of Sinj in the Dalmatian hinterland in southern Croatia. It is currently a town of 12.000 people with a prominent historic past. The location was settled in the antique time, when the Romans occupying the Illyrian lands introduced their own way of life. To prevent rebellion, roads were built and strategic locations were established by military encampments and new settlements, to which colonists and the more or less Romanized local population were sent.

Sinj was seized by the Turks in 1524 who maintained control until 1686, when it was occupied by the Venitians. The town grew around an ancient fortress held by the Ottomans from 16th until the end of 17th century, and the Franciscan monastery with the church of Our Lady of Sinj, which is an important place of pilgrimage.

2013-10-31 09.44.49 (Large)The last Turkish siege in 1715 was repulsed, when 60.000 Turks assaulted and laid siege to the fortress, defended by about 1.000 knights and local people.

The story goes that on August 7th, 1715 a Turkish army under leader Mehmed Pasa arrived to Sinj from the south. A Turkish envoy under heavy escort came from the Turkish camp in front of the town, halting some distance from the walls, and asked to deliver a message from his master to the representative of the Sinj. In the message the Turks asked for the fortress to surrender if they wanted to survive.

Sinj´s people refused negotiations and opted to defend the fortress to the last man. The battle was finished after one week, on August 15, 1715, when the brave defenders had beaten the Turkish military machine. The event is re-enacted every year, as can be seen in the YouTube video below, from the towns tourist office.

Knight tournaments and iron ring competitions (Coja, Bara and Alka) are organised and attended annually in the month of August. The very best horsemen and knights, called as alkari, choose horses from the horse stable in Sinj and take part in those events. The winner of the tournament and the Iron Ring Competition gets a prize from the sponsors and is praised and saluted by the crowd. Alka iron ring competiton is also an important media and tourist event that attracts numerous visitors from abroad.

The battle of Sinj

Nowadays, Sinj is a modern town and bases its development on agriculture and tourism. The town has surprised us with its preparedness to confront the new investment opportunities in the frame of EU structural funds. The town administration is very committed to develop Sinj in accordance with the EU smart specialization directions.

The town is located in the hinterland of the major city Split, which is the capital of central Dalmatia. Sinj including surrounding villages has around 20.000 inhabitants and it is in the ring of Split influence that is inhabited with about 200 000 of people. Therefore is naturally dependent on the economy of Split, but Sinj is also located in the region of Adriatic hinterland, which is a separate economic element on the border to Bosnia and Herzegovina. For the Adriatic hinterland, Split is one of the entrance gates to the area and Sinj is one of the major locations of the hinterland.

18_perspektiva integralnog projektaSinj has during the recent years since 2007 worked on promoting and in parallel process clarifying the place brand. Sinj has been participating in IPA projects that contributed to this image building: in IPA Cross Border programme „ Mediterranean Hinterland Richness“ project in collaboration between Italy and Croatia and as well in IPA Cross Border programme in religious project in collaboration with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The participation in IPA programs contributed in developing and further intensifying the building the elements of the unique vision and strategy for the town of Sinj. The vision of its future development relays on intangible assets of atmosphere and specific way of living that is lived in Sinj: religious aspect and the knights game.

In religious aspect the town of Sinj can be named as one of the  main catholic pilgrimage of St.Mary worship locations in Croatia and is working in strengthening this position in building connections to Solin and Rama in Bosnia and Herzegovina in that scope. Međugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina is in the nearer surrounding the strongest worship location that is yearly visited by about 1 million of visitors.

20131031_094444-aIn 2007 the town started to build the cultural-museum centre called Alkar quarters. The  centre was dedicated to  the Sinjska Alka knights game and maintained with the special dedication. The game was in 2010 listed as nonmaterial UNESCO heritage.

The religious element of the saviour Virgin Mary is tightly related with the miraculous battle event. The association of Sinj knights initiated the refurbishing of the whole quarter in Sinj called Kvartiri and realized were more than 5000 square meter of multifunctional cultural- touristic space.

Further anchoring the vision was that Sinj entered the network called EDEN- European Destinations of excellence Network in 2012. The vision anchoring is never a short term process so are the projects in the direction of the vision further planed. At the moment the communal infrastructure projects of repairing the streets in the town is also anchored to the vision. Namely, the paving of main roads is being substituted into granite blocks that are amplifying the historical ambience of the heroic knights’ period.

In this moment of time in as illustrated conditions one must think to further proceed with the same vision in the new frame of the EU structural funds.

20131031_095422-aAs the town has already taken the steps in pre access period in a defined manner it is now well set to continue the direction towards further planning and implementation of integrated projects.

The town of Sinj is in preparation to apply for structural funds with the project that is called integrated thematic unit the Sinj Alka with the sub-projects of establishing the main planning core for coordinating called Development center that works as a Think tank and  other tangible sub-projects as: Alkar museum equipping, horse stables project, hippodrome widening project, the town fort refurbishing project, the main square and streets reconstruction project, the sport aerodrome project, the heritage building Kamičak refurbishing and as well with other intangible elements as digitization of museum documents etc. We look forward to see the next steps!

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