The Palio di Siena: A Timeless Horse Racing Tradition in Medieval Tuscany
The Palio is probably the most important horse race around the world. Surely it is the greatest medieval one. The first races dated back to XIII, but only centuries ahead it was recorded as the really first race, ran on August 16, 1656. As said, it all goes down in Siena, an amazing medieval city in Tuscany, twice a year. Exactly on July 2nd and August 16th, and the action takes place in Piazza del Campo in a circular racetrack. It’s definitely worth seeing at least once in a lifetime if possible.
Why is the Palio di Siena important?
It’s not just a horse race. There is a lot more behind it. The Palio, as medieval, has some religious and historical values. In fact, it celebrates the appearance of the Virgin Mary near the home of a guy named Provenzano Salvani: the Palio of July 2nd marks this special event, known as the “Madonna of Provenzano.”
The other race, on August 16th, is all about the “Madonna dell’Assunta,” who saved the Sienese army from the Florentines in a famous battle back in 1260. This second date was added only after, in 1701, while by 1721 the rules of the race were set and are the same still being used today.
Palio di Siena: the race
To understand The Palio, it is important to know that the medieval city of Siena is divided into 17 “Contrade”: Aquila, Bruco, Chiocciola, Civetta, Drago, Giraffa, Istrice, Leocorno, Lupa, Nicchio, Oca, Onda, Pantera, Selva, Tartuca, Torre, Valdimontone. Almost every person in the city is part of a Contrada, which is characterized by its coat of arms and colors and its part of the territory.
For every race, so two times per year, there are 10 Contrade competing for The Palio. Of these 10, 7 are the ones that haven’t raced the year before while the other three are “drawn from a hat”. The event consists of four days and in the last one, there is the race. On the first day, there is the “Tratta”, when the horses are assigned by drawing lots to the Contrade that will race.
When it comes to the Palio di Siena, it’s crucial to keep in mind that the real stars of the show are the horses. The 10 participating Contrada each have a horse assigned to them, as said before, and from the moment they get it, the animal becomes a part of a family also receiving the blessing in the Contrade’s churches. And believe it or not, a horse can even win the Palio di Siena without a rider. This has actually happened in the past, with the most recent instance occurring on August 16, 2019, when Selva’s horse Remorex took home the prize after its jockey fell off.
Why is the Palio di Siena important?
The winning Contrada in the Palio di Siena is awarded the “Palio”. It is a work of art known as the “Drappellone”, a large painted silk canvas. It is different every time as it is created by various local artists each year and holds great significance for the winning Contrada. Upon the conclusion of the celebrations, in fact, the canvas is brought to the museum of the winning Contrada – everyone got one – where it is open for viewing to the public and tourists.
How much does it cost to see The Palio di Siena?
Now that you know how The Palio works, you’re probably asking how much does it costs to be watched. Well, there is big news. Is it possible to be part of this incredible event for free. The Palio di Siena is completely free and no tickets are requested to watch it from inside the Piazza del Campo. Of course, there are some other tips that you need to know. As a lot of people desire to live this event, it’s important to arrive some hours ahead. The race is set to start at 19:00 (local), so we suggest arriving at least at 16:00/16:30 to be sure. Anyway, there are also some payable seats and it’s also possible to talk and deal with the owners of the buildings there.
Cover Photo: Anastasia Borisova / Pixabay