Back on the Split–Sinj route, the road crosses infertile heath before descending into SINJ, a provincial market centre laid out in a bowl between the hills. It's famous locally for the Sinjska gospa (Our Lady of Sinj), a supposedly miraculous image of the Virgin dating from around 1500 which hangs in the local parish church (on the last altar on the left-hand side as you enter). It's claimed that prayers to the Sinjska gospa saved the town on Ascension Day 1715, when the locals drove away a superior force of Ottoman Turks – it still draws pilgrims from over Dalmatia, and is paraded through the town every year on August 15. Victory over the Turks is also celebrated annually by the Sinjska alka (usually the first weekend of August) – a sort of medieval joust in which contestants, clad in eighteenth-century cavalry costume, gallop down a steeply sloping street at the southern end of town, and attempt to thread their lances through a ring dangled from a rope. First recorded in 1715, the Alka is one of the few remaining examples of the equine contests which once took place in all the Adriatic towns and cities, and its survival in Sinj is seen as a powerful symbol of regional identity by the locals. Membership of the Alkarsko Društvo, the association of riders allowed still to take part in the Alka, is seen as a badge of knightly prowess in a part of the country where traditional patriarchal values still rule. Indeed the Alka has in recent years become a focus for nationalist groups disillusioned with a Croatia run by centre-left parties. In 2001 the event was taken over by right-wing supporters of alleged Croatian war criminal Mirko Norac (who himself hails from the local village of Otok), prompting President M8i6 to withdraw state support for the Alka in 2002. Politics apart, however, it remains an authentic expression of living folklore, a riotous, boozy business involving all the surrounding villages and taking up the whole day in a blaze of colour, costume and procession. Tickets for the main spectator stand are hard to get hold of (costing from 70Kn to 150Kn, they usually go on sale in travel agents in Split and Makarska a few weeks before the contest), but the atmosphere is worth savouring wllhether you get a grandstand view or not. More details can be had from the smatourist office next to the modern and central Alkar hotel, which has neat, recently refurbished en-suite rooms.
Beyond Sinj, the main road heads northwest towards Knin, while an alternative route heads southeast towards the small town of Trilj, a useful base for exploring the landscapes around the River Cetina.
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