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Il Palio

Listed under Festivals in Siena, Italy.

  • Photo of Il Palio
  • Photo of Il Palio
  • Photo of Il Palio
  • Photo of Il Palio
Photo of Il Palio
Photo by flickr user the bbp
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I haven’t been to them all but this is supposed to be one of the best of Italy’s palios, basically a pageant, horse race and electric display of manly arts. The race itself is just ten horses racing three times around the Siena’s central piazza, but after the warm up parades and the mounted police display of swordsmanship and by the time the mini cannon goes off announcing the start of the race everyone is crazy for it!

The horses and riders are all dressed up in the colours, and what can really only be called finery, of the suburb or part of the city they’re racing for (I guess it’s like football team colours? When I was there in 2006 the Chelsea FC coloured horse won so I was a bit let down.) and it is the first horse over the line with his headdress intact that wins. Riders seem to be unnecessary at this stage of the race and you can apparently cheat by whipping other horses as well as your own. The loser isn’t the one who comes last but the one who comes second (surely not a good lesson for the children!) and the celebrations are totally mad. They also last for about a month.

Some people say this kind of display, held out in the piazza, amongst crowds sometimes baying for blood, dates from Roman times, which makes sense, it looks like an amphitheatre. A lot of colourful talk about race fixing goes on which made it all the more racy for me, Italian passions run high for local pride and racing and combining them sees some people attempting feats of bribery and doping not normally appropriate for races - but then this is a religious event… Information sites say they hold Il Palio twice a year at the beginning of July and mid August - no objection from me - I was there on July 2. The races are dedicated to or in respect of the Virgin Mary.

Written by  Fabian Condello.

Other expert and press reviews

“Palio di Siena”

Emotions run exhilaratingly high with the colours of Siena’s 17 city quarters during Italy’s most famous palio, the Palio di Siena which takes place once on 2nd July and once on 16th August each year. Each locality, or ‘contrade’… Read more...

Written by  larapiegeler.

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