Today like in the past: the days of the Palio di Siena
Tradition spans the centuries in the heart of Siena
From crafts to typical food, passing through the towns festivals, the territory of Siena is rich in traditions; the most famous of them is certainly the Palio, the horse race that since 1644 is held in Piazza del Campo twice a year, attracting many spectators every time. For those who want to enjoy the city to the maximum of its folklore and vivacity, the Palio is definitely one of the best times to visit, and to live an event of this magnitude.
From the districts to the race: the origins of the Palio
The term “”palio” comes from the Latin “pallium”,” i.e. “mantle”. In the Middle Ages, in fact, it became popular the custom of rewarding winners of competitions (equestrian and otherwise) with a fine cloth. Among those still celebrated, the Palio di Siena is definitely the most famous and fascinating competition, thanks to the strength of its tradition: since 1644, the year the first race, it was interrupted only during the world wars. But the origin of the Palio is even more remote, lost in centuries of medieval games and competitions, particularly popular in Siena since the thirteenth century. the year 1450 saw the birth of the associations representing the various districts and the Palio began to assume its most distinctive features, such as the matching between each runner and the membership of the district of which he is part, and the preparation phase, involving the whole area; yes, because the Palio sees people of the Contrada commitred to prepare emblems, signs, costumes and decorations for the big event. Currently the districts of Siena are seventeen: Aquila, Bruco, Chiocciola, Civetta, Drago, Giraffa, Istrice, Leocorno, Lupa, Nicchio, Oca, Onda, Pantera, Selva, Tartuca, Torre and Valdimontone. Since 1644, the event was run occasionally, until July 2, 1656, when for the first time the Palio was made to coincide with the celebrations for the Madonna of Provenzano: from that moment, the race is held regularly in the same dates. One of the peculiarities of the Palio compared to similar competitions is the starting point: jockeys, in fact, are allowed to take advantage by any means, even hindering opponents; this beginning stage is called the “move”, and its duration is at the discretion of the mossiere, that freely decides when the race will start. The victory goes to the jockey who first concludes the three laps of the course: the final celebrations are very special and exciting, with members of the winner district who invade joyfully the field to incite the jockey to take the Palio.
The days of the Palio
The Palio is held twice a year: on July 2, in honor of the Madonna of Provenzano, and on August 16, in honor of the Assumption. The two events are exactly the same except for the ritual of the vigil, which in the second case is a procession with the offer of a candle in the Cathedral instead of the procession of the authorities. Already in June, it’s possible to attend the events that anticipate the Palio, such as the presentation of the horses, their matching with the Contrada, the trainings, the blessing of the horse and the jockey, the historic parade and many other Palio-related events that punctuate Siena’s summer. The ideal way to enjoy all this is to stay in the center if you want to be in the focus of events, while for those who want to combine the clamor of the party while also dedicate some time to relax, a, out of town solution will be more suitable.