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The Palio di Siena: previews, interesting facts and rituals

The contrade of the 2018 editions

The Palio di Siena horse race takes place twice a year: on 2nd July, the day dedicated to the Madonna of Provenzano, and on 16th August, on the occasion of the assumption. Not all seventeen contrade, or districts, are eligible to race in the Palio: only ten of them can compete. Seven places go to the districts that did not take part in the Palio the previous year. The last 3 places, however, are drawn at random about a month before the race. The seven districts who will automatically have the right to participate in the Palio on 2nd July 2018 are Chiocciola, Nicchio, Oca, Lupa, Drago, Istrice and Valdimontone. The three districts have been drawn, which will be added to these seven, are Tartuca, Leocorno and Giraffa. An interesting fact: “la contrada” that has won the most races since the 1600s, is the la Chiocciola. The districts of Leocorno, Pantera, Civetta, Drago, Nicchio, Tartuca and Giraffa will take part in the Palio of the Assumption in 2018. On 8th July 2018 at 7 pm the three districts that will join these will be drawn.

The new banner

The prize for the winning contrada is called the drappellone or palio, which the Sienese also call cencio, or ‘rag’. The palio always has a rectangular shape, is painted on silk and is held up by a halberd pole that has a silver plate and two plumes at the top. After the victory, the banner remains the property of the winning district and becomes part of its history. Under the rules of the Palio, each year the Administration selects a trusted artist to make the cencio. Presented to the people about a week before the race, the palio immediately arouses the curiosity of enthusiasts, because, according to tradition, it may contain clues indicating who will win. To banner for the race on 2nd July 2018 will be made by the Sienese artist Emilio Giannelli, known for his caricatures and cartoons published since 1991 on the front page of the Corriere della Sera newspaper and in the most famous Italian magazines such as L’Espresso and Panorama.

“Go, and return victorious”

The Palio lasts fir four days, during which there are six trials. The fourth day is race day, and the first is the day when the tratta takes place, namely the assignment of the horses to the districts. In fact, the real competitors are the horses: it is not uncommon, for example, that the winning horse arrives at the finish line scosso, i.e. without a jockey. And it is actually the horses who are blessed by a priest shortly before the competition starts, with the phrase “Go, and return victorious”.The Palio di Siena is a truly unique experience, where visitors can witness first hand the excitement of history as it took shape, and is revived each year.