Sinjska Alka

Another tradition connected to the defeat of the Turks in Sinj is the Alka.  The Alka has been held continuoulsy in the city of Sinj for 300 years.  This year was no different and I was able to watch it on television with my mother.  To get an idea of how seriously this tradition is taken, this year’s competition was held in temperatures of 100 degrees.  The men and horses were in full regalia – fur caps and all.  It was incredibly exciting to watch.  I hope I have the opportunity to see it in person next year!

The Sinjska 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.

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.


Velika Gospa – the day of the Great Lady Mary


Image result for miraculous madonna of sinj church

Today is The Feast of the Assumption and a national holiday.  It is celebrated annually on the 15th of August.  This is a very important holiday in the Catholic religion.  It is the principal feast of the Blessed Virgin, the mother of Jesus Christ.  The holiday commemorates the assumption of Mary’s body into heaven.   The Catholic Church’s official doctrine of the Assumption says that at the end of her life on earth Mary was assumed, body and soul, into heaven.

I was curious about Croatians celebrating such a frankly Catholic holiday considering religion was forbidden under the communists.  My neighbor explained the holiday was reinstated in 1991 after Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia.

Velika Gospa, as it’s called here, is one of the biggest days on the religious calendar. Croatians have a great love of the “Great Lady Mary” and make pilgrimmages, on this day, to kneel in front of the shrine of the Miraculous Madonna of Sinj.

The celebration has it’s roots in the Venetian era when the townspeople of Sinj decided to fight rather than surrender to the Turks.  The Great Lady Mary is said to have helped the town defeat the Turkish army.

On August 7th, 1715, the Turkish army, under the leadership of Mehmed Pasa, sent an envoy under heavily armed escort to the Croatian fortress town of Sinj, with an offer to surrendur the town to Turkish control, or face certain death. The townspeople of Sinj refused, instead vowing to defend the city to the last man.

Despite overwhelming numbers in troops and arms, the Turks were defeated on Assumption Day, August 15th. The townspeople of Sinj believed that their victory was owed in part to a “miracle painting” of Our Lady Mary in the town’s church, which gave them the strength to defeat the Turks. It was also noted by historians that the Turkish army was also decimated by disease – which the townspeople of Sinj also attributed to God’s will, and Our Lady Mary.


The Nature of Memories

I’m not sure I picked the right title for this blog. When in doubt, I leap naturally to the spiritual.  I understand that Rumi’s poem is about losing yourself in the Divine.  My root is more prosaic.  I’ve returned to the place I was born after living in America for almost 60 years.  A lot has changed since my family left: Yugoslavia is now Croatia – at least the part I’m from; Communism is gone and Capitalism has taken hold; Catholicism, suppressed under the communist regime has resurged; property, once in the hands of the government has been reclaimed; Croatia has joined the European Union and is Westernizing fast.

It’s hard to explain how weird it sometimes feels to be here.  The memories I have of Zagreb, where we lived with our grandparents as young children, seem like images from a different era.  An era of farm stalls in the open-air market where my grandmother shopped; public baths where my grandfather bathed once a week; homemade sauerkraut, dried cod, potatoes and apples kept in dark cellars; trams and busses and trains that took us around town and out to the small village of Praputnjak to visit our great-grandmother. It was an era of homemade clothes, homegrown food and meat, large extended families and generations living together.  We were surrounded by grandparents, great grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins.

These memories, idealized and held dear, hang like gossamer over the present.  When I’m at the same open-air market, on the tram or walking down the street, I step out of the present.  Time didn’t move on. It quietly laid itself down, waiting for the errant daughter’s return.



Jalaluddin Rumi

Again I return to the poetry of Jalaluddin Rumi when looking for the way forward:

Jalaluddin Rumi For ages you have come and gone
courting this delusion.
For ages you have run from the pain
and forfeited the ecstasy.
So come, return to the root of the root
of your own soul.

Although you appear in earthly form
Your essence is pure Consciousness.
You are the fearless guardian
of Divine Light.
So come, return to the root of the root
of your own soul.

When you lose all sense of self
the bonds of a thousand chains will vanish.
Lose yourself completely,
Return to the root of the root
of your own soul.

You descended from Adam, by the pure Word of God,
but you turned your sight
to the empty show of this world.
Alas, how can you be satisfied with so little?
So come, return to the root of the root
of your own soul.

Why are you so enchanted by this world
when a mine of gold lies within you?
Open your eyes and come —
Return to the root of the root
of your own soul.

You were born from the rays of God’s Majesty
when the stars were in their perfect place.
How long will you suffer from the blows
of a nonexistent hand?
So come, return to the root of the root
of your own soul.

You are a ruby encased in granite.
How long will you decieve Us with this outer show?
O friend, We can see the truth in your eyes!
So come, return to the root of the root
of your own soul.

After one moment with that glorious Friend
you became loving, radiant, and ecstatic.
Your eyes were sweet and full of fire.
Come, return to the root of the root
of your own soul.

Shams-e Tabriz, the King of the Tavern
has handed you an eternal cup,
And God in all His glory is pouring the wine.
So come! Drink!
Return to the root of the root
of your own soul.

Soul of all souls, life of all life – you are That.
Seen and unseen, moving and unmoving – you are That.
The road that leads to the City is endless;
Go without head and feet
and you’ll already be there.
What else could you be? – you are That.

― Jalaluddin Rumi