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  • Il Palio di Siena

    By Anthony Parente

    The carroccio of Siena during the Corteo Storico procession preceding the Palio
    By William Domenichini - Own work,
    CC BY-SA 3.0
    The Palio di Siena is one of the world's oldest horse races and it is held twice a year in the Tuscan town of Siena. To the Sienese this is more than just a race. It is a way of life and a passion that is instilled in them at birth.

    This traditional medieval horse race is held on July 2nd and August 16th. The July event is called the Palio di Provenzano in honor of the Madonna of Provenzano and the August event is the Palio dell'Assunta in honor of the Assumption of Mary.

    The city of Siena is divided in 17 Contrade (wards or districts): Caterpillar, Dragon, Eagle, Forest, Giraffe, Goose, Owl, Panther, Porcupine, Ram, Seashell, She-Wolf, Snail, Tortoise, Tower, Unicorn and Wave. Each Contrade has a banner and colors that are proudly displayed in their district. In each race only 10 of the 17 Contrade participate. The seven Contrade that did not participate on that date the previous year and three that are drawn from the remaining lot.

    The Piazza del Campo, Siena's main square, is transformed into a race track as tons of clay cover the piazza. To protect the jockeys and horses a row of mattresses are placed against the walls of the treacherous San Martino corner.

    The start of the Palio
    By Roberto Vicario, CC BY-SA 3.0
    The Palio is a 4 day event culminating with the race. The first day consists of the horse drawings letting each Contrade know what horse they are assigned. According to Gigi Bruschelli "Once you know how good your horse is then you decide what to aim for, either to block your enemy or go for the win."1 Gigi has won 13 Palios in 16 years and is a master strategist. During day two and three the jockeys get to take trial runs with the horses. On the fourth day in the chapel next to the Palazzo Comunale the Bishop celebrates mass for the jockeys. Then in each Contrada they will bless their horse and proceed to the parade as participants are dressed in historical costumes. Once everyone has arrived at the Piazza del Campo they are greeted by over 50,000 fans as everyone gets to their positions so the race can start.

    As the horses jockey for position at the starting line in the order they were drawn they wait for the large rope to drop and the race to begin. The horses must complete three laps around the Campo navigating the narrow and dangerous curve of San Martino that has seen many jockeys and horses collide into the wall over the years. The first horse to cross the finish line with or without the jockey wins the race. The winning Contrada receives the Drappellone, which is a painted silk banner that they can proudly display in their district.


    Related Information:


    1 Palio. Accessed June 16, 2017, http://us.thepalio.com/film.

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