The Palio of Siena is more than just a horse race in a city center. It is an event steeped in the historical and secular traditions of an ancient culture. The city of Siena currently has 17 districts, each with its own emblem, colors, governing bodies, festivities and patron saints. This number is greatly reduced from the past, but the remaining districts are a part of life for the Sienese. Each citizen belongs to a particular district, or contrada, and rivalries and competitions run fierce between them.
The Palio is 4 days of festivities culminating in a 70-90 second horse race in the Piazza del Campo on July 2nd and August 16th. Since medieval times, the Piazza del Campo hosted city-wide spectacles and events such as jousting, punching, bullfights and buffalo and donkey races. Events taking place in the Piazza were particularly violent, and the Palio is the only that still takes place today and care is taken to prevent outbreaks of violence (though they still occur between rivals). The race itself is a source of controversy because of the numbers of injuries to riders and horses during the race.
HOW IT WORKS:
Of the 17 contrade of the city, only 10 participate in each Palio race. 7 are given right to participate by being those who did not take part in the the race of that month of the previous year, and 3 being drawn randomly in a lottery. A group of representatives (one from each contrada) together choose 10 horses from private owners or stables of comparable quality. A lottery then determines which contrada will have which horse 3 days before the race. 6 trial runs are done before the actual event, one the same day the horses are chosen and then consecutively until the last trial run the morning before the Palio event. Each Palio is a 4 day event that involves the assignment of horses, the blessing of the horse and jockey of each contrada, rehearsal dinners and other festivities. The actual race takes place on the 4th day in the Piazza del Campo which is covered in dirt brought in specifically for the race, and is an explosion of the pent-up energies from the drawn out preparations.
Each jockey rides bareback and it is not unusual for jockeys to fall or be thrown on the perilously sharp corners. One particularly dangerous area is prepared with mattresses to reduce the possibility of injury. It is and interesting race because jockies are allowed to try to prevent others from winning by pushing other jockies, hitting horses or jockies or interfere in other ways. The first horse representing its contrada (with or without jockey) to cross the finish line is declared the winner, and will be followed by the presentation of the Drappellone.
The Drappellone (banner) or Palio is a painted rectangular piece of silk that is hand-painted by a different artist for each race, with the July race using a local artist and the August race, an international artist. There are strict guidelines as to what need be included on the banner, but styles can vary greatly.
Before the race is the Corteo Storico , a paegent and procession consisting of spectacles such as flag twirlers and a demonstration on horseback by the local police, as well as richly styled costumes dating back to the 13th century and songs and music. The energy of the spectators and participants increases almost palpably in these festivities until they reach a breaking point during the brief race. Then they flow into raucous celebrations taking place immediately after the Palio banner is presented, and often lasting months for the winning contrada.
HOW TO SEE IT:
A great way to see this annual event is to come on our tour, with a fun-loving group of young Italians and travelers. We ride up together, spend the day supporting our favorite contrada and have an amazing time. When we have soaked up all the festivities we can, we ride back to Florence together, making this an unbeatable and once-in-a-lifetime excursion with locals. You can’t get more Italian than this!
Check it out and book now:
2014 Participating Contrade:
July 2nd, 2014
GIRAFFA-Giraffe, CHIOCCIOLA-Snail, DRAGO-Dragon, TARTUCA-Tortoise, SELVA-Forrest, BRUCO-Caterpillar, AQUILA-Eagle, LUPA-She Wolf, PANTERA-Panther and ONDA-Wave.
August 16th, 2014 (the 7 by right)
DRAGO-Dragon, GIRAFFA-Giraffe, PANTERA-Panther, CIVETTA-Owl, VALDIMONTONE-Ram and LEOCORNO-Unicorn.
This is something you won’t want to miss so book now before it fills up!