Siena's "Palio" -- July 2 and August 16


Jul 22nd, 1998, 01:45 AM
Jen Z.
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Siena's "Palio" -- July 2 and August 16

I've just become curious to see if anyone else had witnessed this amazing event, a no-holds-barred horse race in the huge Piazza del Campo in the centre of Siena. No one seems to mention it, and it's such an incredible thing. With all the people in here planning summer trips to Italy, I'm surprised it's rarely, if ever, mentioned. They wear incredible costumes, put on a day of pageantry based on years, even centuries, of tradition... So for anyone going to Italy this summer, the next one is August 16 (this day and July 2 are the days it takes place each year). Anyone else seen it? I'm still confused about the "rules" and the contrada and things; can anyone enlighten me?
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Jul 22nd, 1998, 06:06 AM
Cassie W
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We will be in Siena, but not at that time. I am looking for a reasonable, $100 or less, place to stay in Siena and Vernazza, any suggestions?
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Jul 22nd, 1998, 12:29 PM
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The Sienese feel very strongly that the Palio is not a tourist event. They do not particularly encourage tourists to try to attend. The second Palio in August is held on the Virgin Mary's Feast Day in honor of her. We did go with Italian cousins last year. You have to really know Siena well, be prepared to stand for hours in the heat, and watch your wallets at all times (don't beware of the people of Siena, but others are attracted to the huge crowds. I think without our cousins, we would never have accomplished it! As for the race, it was one of the most incredibly moving and violent things I've ever seen.I sat next to a gentleman from Siena (yes, we had the good fortune to sit!!) and I started a social conversation about horse racing in general. He smiled at me and said, "Senora, this is not a horse race, this is a war!!" He was right! The bribery and intrigue that goes on before the race is incredible--different contrade are in league with others against their rivals. Of the horses that started the race, only four finished with riders still on--none of the horses were injured (and the archbishop gave thanks for that later at the Duomo) but several riders were taken off in ambulances. You must understand the historical significance of the Palio in order to appreciate it. If you absolutely must go, do lots of research and gather lots of patience beforehand. All hotels will be booked probably by now. There is a practice run the day before that is much more accessible and the festivities last for about a week so I would advise trying to attend something, but not the actual Palio! Hope this helps! PS At the end of the very short race, I was shaking all over and could feel my heart pounding--even our 21 year old "sophiticated" son looked at me and said he had never seen anything like it! And, I believe it is televised on Italian TV afterward.
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Jul 23rd, 1998, 02:05 AM
Jen Z
Posts: n/a, thanks for your story. I have never talked to anyone else who has seen it. But I can't agree with your recommendation to catch some of the events that week but miss the actual Palio. True, I wish we'd gotten seats (it got a bit crazy out in the crowd after the race, and we were right by the exit -- everyone started screaming and running out of the square and we were afraid there might be a riot). But wow, it is a very moving thing. The jockeys at the race we saw had more luck than at the race you saw, but one horse and jockey did go down, and we didn't see them get up again. The emotion that followed the race, throughout the whole city was very intense. People were crying or partying in the streets, depending on which contrade we happened to walk through.

You're right, it's not a tourist event. We got a lot of funny looks, like we weren't welcome there. But it's SO amazing, and I'm just surprised it hasn't caught on with the tourist crowd. I especially liked the procession beforehand, through all the major city squares, with the flag routines, and seeing the costumes up close. I really need to find some good literature on the subject, to understand it better, and perhaps one day I'll return to see it (by the way, how does one get seats?).
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