I’m in Siena and it’s literally only a couple of weeks until the most important event of the year – the PALIO on the Piazza del Campo.
What I’m witnessing now is the lead up to this historic horse race that has been an annual fixture since the 6th century. The ‘contrades’ or districts within the city boundaries of Siena compete against each other.
Back in the day there were 57 contrades, but today there are just 17. The contrades parade the streets of Siena (men only) dressed in their regalia, marching at the beat of the drum and waving their flags, with more members from the contrade following behind.The passion is deep, the pride is strong and the noise from the contrades is deafening.
The Palio is much more than a simple event for the Sienese, it’s a large part of their lives since birth. Each person belongs to a contrade, participating in the life of that contrade with great enthusiasm and also in the organization of the Palio throughout the entire year.
There are two races – one July 2 in honour of Madonna of Provenzano and one August 16 in honour of the Virgin Mary.
Although there are 17 contrades, only 10 out of the 17 take part in each race: seven that did not participate in the previous race, while the other three are drawn by lots. The Piazza del Campo is prepared for the race, with the ring in the middle providing standing room for spectators. The outer ring is covered in turf for the actual racing, making it very challenging as some parts are very narrow.
Ablaze in their contrade robes, displaying their colours and emblem the jockeys rides three laps of the Piazza del Campo bareback, often taking as little as 90 seconds to complete. The first horse across the line is the winner, even if it arrives without the jockey.
The Palio actually takes place over four days, the race taking place on the fourth day. The first day is for the “Tratta” or the drawing of the lots and assignment of a horse to each of the ‘contrade’. Then, each of contrade chooses their jockey.
I only wish I was here for the race…
SPECIAL NOTE: There is no official box office for the tickets to the Palio. Tickets are purchased directly from those who organize the stands, the private terraces or travel agencies.