Travel In Italy

Palio di Siena

While Italy is known for Ferrari and Lamborghini, hidden in the heart of Tuscany is Siena, whose horse race, The Palio di Siena, is one of the most thrilling races in the world. 

The  Palio di Siena is one of the oldest and most competitive races, making it one of the top “bucket list” sporting events to see in your lifetime. The race lasts a mere 70-90 seconds, as jockeys riding bareback and dressed to represent their communities run three laps through the heart of the city, circling the Piazza del Campo. 

More than just a race. 

The Palio Di Siena is much more than a race; it’s a cultural event that brings the whole community together. Every aspect of the Palio relates to some part of Siena’s robust and beautiful community, and each tradition has been preserved and embraced for over a thousand years.  

The Palio takes place twice a year, one on the 2nd of July (Palio of Provenzano, in honor of the Madonna of Provenzano) and on August 16th (Palio of the Assumption, in honor of the Virgin Mary’s Assumption). 

Days before the race, a horse lottery commences, where representation from all 17 districts or sub-communities of Siena (contrades); enter their horses in hopes of being chosen for the main race.  During the lottery only 10 of the 17 horses will be chosen to race and each contrade will be assigned their jockey. 

The community gathers for tradition and celebration. 

The Palio is a four-day celebration that is planned over the course of a year by representatives from each contrade. During the event each contrade holds their own outdoor festivals filled with grand feasts of food, wine and music, religious ceremonies, traditional processional marches and competitive chanting. These festivals build the collective and unified feeling of each contrade as they prepare to root for their pride within Siena. The feasts are typically ticketed events and can be purchased throughout the city of Siena, but be warned that once you choose a contrade, you have chosen your horse in the race, literally. 

As the final day of festivities arrives, the tension of the Palio can be felt throughout the city. Weeks of preparation has gone into transforming the stoned palazzo into a clay-tracked surface. Stands have been constructed around the piazza, and in the heart of it all is the main viewing pen. The intensity of the Palio and its sharp turns can be closely viewed from the middle of the track, the heart of the race.  While alternative stands have been constructed on the other parts of the piazza, some alternative viewing points can be from some of the cafes attached to the Piazza del Campo

As the mad dash of three laps ends, the first horse to cross the finish line, regardless of whether his jockey finishes, wins the race. The winning contrade receives the drappellone, a silk banner created by an artist following specific guidelines. The Palio, one of the most exciting races in the world filled with celebrations, tradition and long standing rivalries is a sports fan’s must-see.


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