The Palio di Siena
Have you ever heard of the Palio di Siena? On this blog post, we will be telling you more about this deep-rooted Italian equestrian tradition that dates all the way back to the 13th Century.
The Palio di Siena is a traditional horse race that takes place every year on July 2nd and August 16th in Siena, Italy. The race has a long history: it was first held as a military competition in the 13th century to commemorate triumphs and significant occurrences in the city. Throughout the years, it turned into a modern-day horse race. This event is a very significant tradition for the city's residents - the contradaioli* have been involved in the life of the contrada** from youth, working tirelessly all year in preparation for the Palio.
Even though it has been going on for a long time, the Palio is still a popular and exciting event. People travel from all over the world to see it! The fierce competition between the contrade and the thrill of the race make it a one-of-a-kind and unforgettable experience.
* Contradaioli - The individuals who are part of the Contrade.
** Contrada – A generic name given to the different types of Italian city subdivisions. In this case, referring to the 17 Contrade of Siena which form the teams of the Palio.
The Race Day
Before the race, there is a colourful parade with flags, banners, and musicians through the streets of Siena. It is also accompanied by religious ceremonies making it one of the most important events in the city. The Palio takes place around Piazza del Campo, the city’s main square, and it is known for being extremely competitive. A total of ten contrade compete in the race itself, leaving the other seven to compete next year, along with 3 others that will be sorted in a draw.
The race involves jockeys circling the Piazza del Campo three times, with the entire event taking little more than ninety seconds. One particularity of the race is that jockeys ride their horses bareback, and falls are common. There is a lot of cheering from the city resident, waving the flags of each contrada – there is a real buzz around the place. The winner is the first horse to cross the finish line… so even if a jockey has been thrown their horse might still be declared the winner! Unlike other competitions, the contrada whose horse finished second, not last, is deemed the race's loser. The winner receives a hand-painted silk banner.
The Palio is also a great opportunity to see how passionate the people of Siena are. They are very proud of their neighbourhood and the history of their city. The race is a way to show this sense of community and identity – often followed by amazing street celebrations demonstrating the full extent of the Sienese culture.
Aside from the excitement of the race itself, the Palio di Siena gives people a chance to learn about Siena's culture and history. The city itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known for its medieval architecture, beautiful streets and squares, and rich artistic history. People who come to the city can check out its museums, churches, and old buildings, as well as its delicious food and world-famous wines.
You can learn more about Italian traditions and culture on our riding holidays that take place in different regions across this spectacular country.
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