Saturday 2nd July and Tuesday 16th August
Held twice a year in Siena, Palio di Siena is a colourful display of culture, rivalry, and horse racing. Referred to by locals as Il Palio, the race can be traced all the way back to the medieval ages when the piazza would host games that included jousting and boxing. The race as we know it began in 1656 and was the first modern Palio.
Revered for the passionate rivalry and the ferocious intensity of the race itself, the contrade are at the heart of Il Palio. Ten contrade, or city wards, ride the race each year and competition between the wards is fierce. The race takes place around a dirt track which circles the Piazza del Campo, the race is three laps long and is usually completed in an astonishing 90 seconds. The jockeys ride bareback and as a result they are often thrown from their horse whilst tackling the dangerous turns. Unlike other horse races, horses competing in Il Palio can go on to win the race without a rider.
The short time it takes to complete the race does little to quell the party atmosphere. With the August race taking place around the time of the Feast of the Assumption, celebrations start early in the day and continue to late in the night during this special festival.
The horse, or horse and rider who win the race are presented with a banner which is painted by a different artist each year. The race revolves around the pride of the Sienese people, and losers are nicknamed ‘grandmother.’
The contrade racing will be wearing individual colours which spectators are encouraged to wear to support their riders. Fans from abroad and locals will be besieged by scarf and flag sellers looking to deck out observers in the appropriate colours of their rider.
Far more than just a horse race, the Palio di Siena is a competition that has prevailing rivalries. Spectators will include impassioned locals supporting their contrada with pride. Spectators will also include fans from around the world looking to soak up the party atmosphere that precedes and follows the races. With rituals and blessings taking place before the event, the animosity between contrade is not to be overlooked!
What to do
Prior to the race taking place their will be the Corteo Storico, a pageant that celebrates the race. There will be costume displays, flag wavers and horseback demonstrations to get you in the mood for the race. A group of carabinieri will whet any spectator’s appetite by doing laps of the Piazza del Campo wielding swords whilst on horseback .You are able to enjoy the day’s events unfolding from stalls erected for the event or more exclusive box seats which offer some other luxuries, which include fantastic views.
If you aren’t all partied out by the paegeant and racing, the festival atmosphere continues long into the night. Street parties often break out spontaneously, whilst bars and restaurants will open late to accommodate spectators and locals. There are victory dinner’s help for the winning contrada which you may be able to attend, as invitations aren’t always obligatory.