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palio of siena

Siena - Piazza del Campo, the Palio Square

“Siena: Waiting for The Palio”

Yes, the grand celebration of Siena, Il Palio. It is celebrated on July 2nd and on August 16th each year. It is during the month of May that the countdown starts for the most waited moment by any Sienese. Tourists from all over the world also wait for the unique event.

During the coming months we will be explaining more about the Palio, curiosities and the history of what is considered to be one of the most important events in Italy. Its origins date back to the 7th century. In addition we’ll familiarize with the complex vocabulary of terms that define Palio and itselements. Here, we’ll discover how to move through Siena during the non-stop 3-days celebration.

Now we’ll concentrate on what is a topic moment of Palio, the drawing of the Contrade (sing. Contrada) that will take place the last Sunday of May. During this drawing process it will be decided which Contrade will take part to the Palio in July. Contrade are popular institutions that pertain to a particular section of the territory of the city of Siena (think of a district). The limits and borders of Contrade were defined in 1730 by the then woman governor of Siena, Violante di Baviera.

Each one of these Contrade has its own headquarters, a church that is separate from the one of the local congregation, and a museum where the Palios won in the past are preserved. The Contrade are guided under the head of a council of people elected by popular vote. The most important charges of the council are the Priore and the Captain that are vested with the powers to guarantee the seamless development of events towards the Palio.

Going back to the draw that will capture the attention of all Sienese people during the last Sunday of May. The total number of Contrade is 17, but during any given Palio only 10 run the race, therefore the 7 Contrade that could not participate to the Palio the previous year are given the straight right to participate to the Palio of the following year. Therefore, three have to be extracted among the 10 remainders. These are moments of great tension and passion that overflows the people of Siena during these moments of trepidation that so well anticipate the coming of Palio.

For those that have visited Piazza del campo during any day that is not a Palio day, it may seem impossible to imagine ten horses galloping with all their might through this narrow stretch around the piazza that contains such a magnificent show. Those same people will have a surprise when coming back during the Palio days will discover the Piazza del Campo adorned in such a spectacularly colorful fashion. The splendor of the square, the horses ready for the race, and the thousands of people all around and in the middle will arise a sudden pulse of passion in anyone admiring this spectacle and lead, even if for just few hours, to siding with one Contrada to fully participate with full enthusiasm.

A beloved Tuscan friend of mine told me this: not even the most felt football passion can compare with the sensations and emotions that the Palio of Siena awakens in anyone participating to the celebration!

After the draw in May we’ll come back to let you know the Contrade that will run the Palio in July...


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