Two times a year, at the beginning of july and at mid august, Siena celebrates the Palio.
Don't even think that the Palio is something arranged for tourists or a staged manifestation. People in Siena "live" the Palio.
Everyone in Siena grows up with a sharp feeling of belonging to a "contrada" that is a city ward. There are 17 of them in Siena each with a fancy name and colours.
Siena is medieval, made of dark stones, dark itself in some ways, but in the days of the palio the city blossoms in colours, each street and each contrada with its own colours.
The palio is a kind of horse race in one of the most beautiful square in the world. But it is not a simple race. It is a war. Every contrada runs only for itself firstly, but always casting an eye to the horse of the enemy contrada: better make the enemy loose than winning.
War symbols are everywhere, starting from the "nerbo" the whip used to push the horse but also to hit the other riders.
People get crazy for the palio: they cry or exult, hug themselves or quarrel, and it is not a show at all. If your contrada wins, you are happy for a year long.
Go in the square, "Piazza del campo", and experiment the strike of adrenaline when the three minutes ride starts.
Besides a war representation the palio is full of religious aspects, expecially rooted in the cult of the Madonna. The palio itself is a flag, created every time by a different artist, but it must always represent the mother of god. After the victory the horse is led to the Cathedral for a thanks giving ceremony.
Chance is the other great protagonist of the palio. The horses are assigned by drawing lots and so the places at the start. Three contrade out of ten run because they were drawed and the examples could go on. Everyone believes that the chance can be directed and the art of interpreting signs for reading into future is well practiced.
And what about us, the tourist? Well, the inhabitants of Siena tolerate them even if they know, correctly, the tourists understand very little of what is happening. Siena people behave as though tourists were transparent, but nevertheless they can book a place for the dinner in contrada and so bring money.
The Palio is unique in Italy, there is nothing similar, nothing so close to the spirit of medieval time and to sense of belonging to a small community.
Last thing: the entrance in Piazza del campo is free but go there quite early or it will be very difficult to cut the tightly packed crowd. Not suitable for claustrophobic people!
If you want to know (much) more read the book “La terra in piazza”
On July 2 and August 16 Siena shuts down and as thousands croud into the plaza to watch the horses race. The riders have no tirups and the buildings on the edges of the track are stone so the danger as real as riders dress in the traditional colors representing their neighborhoods and take off.
The acctual race days are the most crowded but the celebrations start a few days beforehand when banners begin to decorate the city and practice races and time trials are held. We went on June 30, 2 days before the race and thought it was great, the crowds were still big but not so huge as to fill the city, We stil felt comfortable, not crowed as we tourd the city int the morning.
Know that you should get to the Plaza early, noonish if you want a good spot near the rail. THe bleachers are reserved for locals.
Plaio it is a madness that occurr twice a year in Siena.
it is a medieval horse race that divide the city of siena into 17 differnt quarter called Contrade, that fight one against the other to win.
It is a fantastic situation that hit the city for some 3 weeks before and after and it is a must seen...every year dozens of VIP come to siena to enjoy this wonderful moment of art and history...but a living one.
The citizens of Siena proudly state that the most beautiful feast in the world takes place on their square, il Campo.
The Palio races got their name after a kind of flag.
Their official name’s ‘Palio delle Contrade’. It’s a competition among the districts (contradas) of Siena.
There are 17 contradas in Siena, and they were all formed in the 15th century. Each has got its administration, authorities chosen every 2 years, church, and museum where they keep all the tropheys won in the races through centuries. Contradas have also got their symbols, usually an animal. A panther, owl, snail, giraffe, goose, dragon or two-headed eagle are just some of these.
Palio is held twice a year, on 2 July and 16 August.
There are 10 contestants, almost never from Siena, who become everyone’s heroes.
The race itself lasts for 1 minute and about 20 seconds, but it’s a true spectacle and the audience contributes as well.
The Palio di Siena (known locally as the Palio delle Contrade), the most famous palio in Italy, is a horse race held twice each year on July 2 and August 16 in Siena, in which the horse and rider represent one of the seventeen Contrade, or city wards. A magnificent pageant precedes the race, which attracts visitors and spectators from around the world.
Both horse and rider are dressed in the colours and arms of the Contrade: Aquila, Bruco, Chiocciola, Civetta, Drago, Giraffa, Istrice, Leocorno, Lupa, Nicchio, Oca, Onda, Pantera, Selva, Tartuca, Torre and Valdimontone.
The Palio is a historical horse race which takes place on July 2 and August 16.
For information go to this site.
U.S. agent for tickets
Siena's history is linked to the tradition of the Palio a great deal. Siena is made up of 17 'contrade' which are real independent cities within a city. The Senesi talk of their belonging to a certain 'contrada' first and then to the whole of Siena. A lot of energy, great economic as well as organizational efforts are needed on the part of the Comune di Siena (town hall) and its 'contradaioli'. The Palio used to be originally performed with bulls and buffaloes, but later horse races took over. The final organization of the Palio as it appears today dates back to 1656. This event called Palio has widely been used as a show and it has become a business within which interests and diplomatic intrigues mingle at a latent and at a more overt level. According to tradition, there exist alliances between the poorer 'contrade' and secret agreements are made in order to hinder the opposing 'contrade'.
A complicated system of rules and attributions still supports the unfolding of the Palio. On the last Sunday of May flags representing the participating 'contrade' are selected. Four days before the Palio the 'hot' phase starts with the local administration's list of the horses that have been admitted to the race and a group of 10 horses are selected. Each horse (barbero) is assigned to each jokey at random while this latter is chosen by the representative of the 'contrada'. Then the six races follow. They take place in the morning and in the evening.
The Palio takes place twice a year: on 2nd July it is dedicated to the 'Madonna del Provenzano', the city's patron saint, while the one on 16th August bears the name of 'Palio dell'Assunta'. On 2nd July forecasts are made as to the future holders of the 'cencio' (rag), a coloured silk cloth with the emblem of Siena.
The beautiful clam shell shaped plaza at the heart of Siena. Seems to be "the" gathering spot of the city... Also the location of the famous Palio Della Contrade, which is a medieval horse race run around the perimeter of the Plaza..
Great place to kick back and relax, and contemplate the day's activities....