Siena – The Home of the Palio Horse Race!

December 6, 2015 by Rem Malloy

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If you are planning a trip to Italy and you intend to be in Siena then don’t miss the Palio. It is a unique horse race that is held every year on 2nd of July and 16th of August. You can look for Italy vacation packages for those dates if you are particularly interested in the race.

Siena is home to many events and festivals through the year but the most important is the Palio horse race. Traditionally, different areas of the city which are known as contrades compete against one another in a horse race organized at Piazza del Campo, which is in the city center. There used to be fifty nine different areas or contrades in the city but now there are only seventeen and just ten of them participate in the event. The Palio horse race is more like a pageant for the gallant, fierce and skillful. Presently, seven contrades qualify as per their right and three contrades are chosen through a draw. The different contrades eyeing for glory are Eagle, Wave, Snail, Panther, Tortoise, Forest, Owl, Shell, Unicorn, Ram, Tower, Dragon, Porcupine, Caterpillar, Giraffe, Goose and She-Wolf.

Every contrada has its emblem and team of racers. The race is believed to have been an annual event since the sixth century. Let us explore what the Palio horse race is all about.

The two races held on 2nd of July and 16th of August are in honor of Madonna of Provenzano and Virgin Mary’s Assumption respectively. The entire event spans four days but the race is held on the fourth day. There are six trial runs through the day and the fifth run is the final. The jockeys racing do so without saddles.

The race is preceded by many formal events, from introductions to official blessing ceremonies conducted by the contrades participating. There are three laps with several dangerous junctures when horses and jockeys ram against each other, fall, topple, get smashed against the walls and eventually the first horse to finish the race wins. Interestingly, if the horse is the first to finish without is jockey, it is still the winner.

The Palio horse race of Siena has not been without its share of controversies or opposition but it remains a longstanding tradition of the town and thus it is extremely close to the hearts and spirits of the people. It is as much cultural as historical, as much a sport as it is integral to the lifestyle of the people born and raised in Siena.

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