The Palio in Siena – an Italian tradition preserved for centuries!
Every year on the square in the Tuscan city of Siena there are horse races which are remembered not only in Italy, but also in other parts of the world.
Siena is one of the oldest cities in Italy, a monument of architecture and culture. It brings together not only tourists from all over the world, but also Italians themselves. There is always something to see, but especially on July 2 and August 16! Exactly on these days each year in the famous Siena square are held no less famous races – called the Siena Palio (Palio di Siena).
Yes, these days in the city crowds of tourists, but Italians themselves are no less. The Italians honor the traditions of their ancestors and treat events such as the Palio in Siena with special reverence. And do not think that only the older generation is interested in such events. On race days, the city is full of young people who don’t mind learning how the Palio was held hundreds of years ago.
This year, on June 2, Luca and Sasha and I also went to Siena. And that, I tell you, was unforgettable!
As I said, twice a year, in the main square of the city – Piazza del Campo – a horse race is organized between 10 districts of the city, called contradas. Siena has 17 contradas, but only 10 contradas – that is, 10 teams – participate in the Palio. During the next Palio, the teams change.
Piazza del Campo is always filled to capacity. All the balconies of the houses overlooking the square are also occupied. Residents of these apartments and mansions sell seats from the windows of their homes, from here you can see all the details of the races.
The spectacle from Siena is televised and outshines all other news in Italy that day.
During this medieval show, the ten participating riders are dressed in the traditional colors of their contrada, and the flags and emblems of the contradas fly on the building of the Palazzo Comunale. The total length of the course to be covered by a rider on an unbridled horse is approximately 1 kilometer – the distance includes three laps of 333 meters.
Racing in Siena usually lasts no more than 1.5 minutes. However, in preparation for them, each contrada reshuffles their flag colors costumes, rehearses the ceremonial procession once again and again develops a strategy for jockey and horse behavior on the course. To prevent the horses from damaging their hooves, the famous yellowish Sienese earth is brought to the square, sprinkled with sand and then tamped down.
It happens so that on sharp turns or in particularly narrow places the rider, unable to hold on, flew off the horse and it alone completes the circle of competition.
It is said that in such cases it is the horse that wins and the rider receives no encouragement. But, if the jockey does stay on the horse and comes first to the finish line, he receives a rather large cash prize. The winner’s name is entered in a special commemorative book, and the contrada, whose interests he represented, arranges a festive banquet on the square, attended by thousands of people.
The horse is undoubtedly the protagonist of the Palio in Siena! On the eve of the race, the horse is treated to a real celebration: taken to the temple, sprinkled with holy water and wished good luck. The belief is that it’s bad luck if the horse is calm at the service, but if it’s nervous it’s good luck. Local inhabitants say that if the horse leaves a “pancake” on the church floor it means that good luck has come and the victory is guaranteed.
The hired riders are kept locked up in the town hall until the start of the competition. Before they mount their horses, they are filmed by a video camera and a lip-reader makes sure there is no collusion or attempt to bribe the rider. What did you think? It’s serious!
Despite living in Italy for over 20 years, this was my first time watching the Palio in Siena. Emotions were off the scale, adrenaline was boiling, my palms were sweating: a truly breathtaking sight!
If you are in Italy on August 16, I sincerely recommend visiting Siena. You won’t regret it!
For those who want to see the Siena Palio in August, here are the coordinates of Cristina Ricci, who will organize everything for you: tel. +393405813237 e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.