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Palio of Siena

The Palio of Siena is a competition between the Contrade of the city. It is an ancient tradition, in the form of an equestrian joust of medieval origin.

The first traces of an event vaguely similar to the Palio date back to the 12th century. Even today, it is one of the most heartfelt and participated events in all of Italy.


How the Palio takes place

 
Ten out of 17 Contrade run the Palio on 2 July. In addition to the seven that did not run the Palio in July of the previous year, three were drawn from the ten who participated.

The 10 Contradas take part in the Palio with a horse, assigned to them by drawing lots from a shortlist of horses selected from those physically fit for the competition.

On the day of the Palio, before the start of the race, the traditional parade of authorities, knights and contradaioli - all strictly dressed in traditional period costumes - crosses the streets of the historic center of Siena. During the parade, each district displays its banners, banners and colors of belonging.

The race ends after three laps of Piazza del Campo (about 1000 meters). The horse officially wins, as it can also cross the finish line without the jockey. The honors of the city and a "Victory Dinner" are reserved for the winning district, between September and October.

At the end of the race, all the Contradas come together to celebrate the big day until late at night.

 

The origins of the event and the Palio alla Lunga

 

The very first form of the Palio dates back to 1100, when the competition called "Palio alla Lunga" involved crossing the streets of the city, until reaching the Old Cathedral.

From the thirteenth century, the event was dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta, queen and patron saint of the city. The Palio therefore began to be part of the celebrations of the saint, together with the offering of candles and censuses to the Madonna. The winner was entitled to the "pallium", a precious decorated cloth. The very name of the prize inspired the word “Palio”.

At the time, only the nobles took part in the race. With the birth of the Contrade, a different type of show began to be organized, more popular and therefore also open to the less affluent sections of the population.

The turning point towards a modern conception of the Palio comes at the end of the sixteenth century, when the local games appear. Thanks to the latter, the identity of the individual Contrade is strengthened, which will henceforth become the beating hearts of the event.

The representative associations of the various districts date back to around 1450. Thanks to their contribution, the Palio begins to take on its most peculiar characteristics: from the preparation for the event to the decision to match each individual runner with the district to which they belong, the race takes on the characteristics we know today.

Currently the districts of Siena are seventeen: Aquila, Bruco, Chiocciola, Civetta, Drago, Giraffa, Istrice, Leocorno, Lupa, Nicchio, Oca, Onda, Pantera, Selva, Tartuca, Torre and Valdimontone. From 1644 the event takes place occasionally until July 2, 1656 when, for the first time, the competition coincides with the celebrations of the Madonna of Provenzano. Since then the race has been held regularly on the same dates.

One of the peculiarities of the Palio, which distinguishes it from similar competitions, is the start. In fact, each jockey is allowed to gain an advantage over the other competitors by leveraging any means, even hindering the opponents. The start phase is called "move" and its duration is at the discretion of the starter, who establishes the start of the race at will.

The jockey who first concludes the three laps of Piazza del Campo wins, thus inaugurating the fascinating and engaging final celebrations, with the members of the winning district who joyfully invade the field and accompany the jockey to collect the Palio.

 

The dates of the Palio

 

The "career", as the race is traditionally called, normally takes place twice a year: on 2 July, when the Palio is staged in honor of the Madonna di Provenzano (feast of the Visitation in its extraordinary form), and on August 16, when the jockeys get on their horses in honor of the Madonna Assunta.

Both events are officially recognized by the city of Siena and take place in approximately the same way. The only difference is the rite of vigil. In fact, in the August event, the organization provides for a procession with an offering of the candle in the Cathedral instead of the procession of the authorities.

The celebrations on the occasion of the Palio begin as early as June, with the presentation of the horses and their pairing with the Contrada, the trainings and the blessing of steeds and jockeys.

The city of Siena is easily reachable from San Gimignano and the Casolare Le Terre Rosse. Stay in our country hotel in the summer months and experience firsthand all the folkloristic events related to the Palio and its traditions.

01
Aug
2022
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