Palio . . . nothing more nothing less ! !
Everyone can have a favorite place or an attraction in Siena, but everyone undoubtedly will admit that the most important, the most famous, the most profoundly and the most fabulous event is Palio of Siena.
To ascertain, for sure you have to see it. But trust me . . . if you see it once, you will want more and more! Just like me. Already I am waiting for next Palio. Still some months left. . . because it takes place twice a year: 2nd of July (Palio in honor of Madonna) and 16th of August (Palio of the Assumption). It is a beautiful and profound performance which is a combination of many elements: civil; religious and medieval.
Palio is a horse racing on Piazza del Campo between districts (Contrade). There are 17 districts (Contrade). Incredible is that the “Contrade” first appeared in the middle of the 15th century. It means for me that participate in Palio is like participate in history. What is more, every Contrada has an own seat; own church and own identity (flag, anthem, members, emblems, colours etc.). At present we have the following Contrade: Aquila (eagle); Bruco (caterpillar); Chiocciola (snail); Civetta (owl); Drago (dragon); Giraffa (giraffe); Istrice (porcupine); Leocorno (capricorn); Lupa (she-wolf); Nicchio (seashell); Oca (goose); Onda (wave); Pantera (panther); Selva (forest); Tartuca (tortoise ); Torre (elephant); Valdimontone (aries).
However in race take part only 10 Contrade. Seven of them are automatically included (when they did not participate in that month of the previous year) and three of them are chosen by draw (that takes place before Palio, at the end of Mai and at the beginning of July). Horses are chosen three days before Palio. However about this which horse will run for which Contrada decides lottery. Then. . . only racing trial, till the morning of Palio day. Everything happens in an unusual atmosphere, full of fairytale habits.
On the Palio day, when city is in districts flags, the race precedes very reach pageant, the Corteo Storico. It includes inter alia show of warrants, drummers, walk representatives all districts with horses and jockeys in medieval costumes. After comes the captain of Justice (Capitano di Giustizia) riding a horse and then the representatives of the seven “Contrade” that no longer exist: Cock, Lion, Beam, Oak, Sword, Viper.
The last and the most spectacular is entry of chariot with Palium, drawn by huge oxen. In the chariot are seated the four “Provveditori di Biccherna” (administrative authority who in times of yore used to superintend public representations). Palium – a hand painted silk banner – is the main prize. After pageant appear horses in lottery order. It is very important moment because decides about start position.
And then incredible silent, everyone is waiting for start of race. The race is so short – three laps around Piazza del Campo. It lasts about 90 seconds. But it is priceless time. Huge crowd that gathered for this event is screaming so loud, everyone supports one of Contrada. After 90 seconds fans and members of one Contrada are in seventh heaven celebrating with unparalleled joy a win. Their celebration starts walk with Palium and then till late hours lasts party with wine. On the other hand the rest of Contrade are disappointed and sad. What I saw all around me . . . are tears some of them tears of happiness, some of them tears of sadness. This means only one thing – the race it’s an explosion of extreme emotions.
The famous Horsing Race collects on Piazza del Campo huge amount of people. Some of them (mostly tourists, that are coming from all around the world) spends hours and even night to have good position. About this fact know very well owners of restaurants and hotels. For them Palio is the best occasion to earn very good money.
But you should know that Palio means something more. Contrade organize during the year meetings and dinners for members. However everyone can participate in their open air party. And trust me every of them is guarantee of good fun.
Frankly speaking it’s very hard to describe this event, because I am sure that words can’t give you a whole image. They can show you only rules. The only real possibility to learn about Palio in Siena is to experience it. To be there, in this crowd on Piazza del Campo, to be part of this wonderful event. And at the end for information the winners of last year: Contrada dell’Oca (July) and Contrada dell’Onda (August). Who will win next year ? Maybe you will be able to see it. . .