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Palio di Siena

The Palio of Siena

When the elegant and stunning Piazza del Campo in Siena is visited for the first time, it is really impossible to imagine that in this small yet inviting square one of the most passionate horse races takes place. A race that stirs up emotions among the “seneses” and among those who have been fortunate to witness the Palio of Siena.

The Palio is without a doubt one of the most important events throughout Italy and one of the most colourful, singular and passionate celebrations that history has given. In fact the origins of the Palio dates back to 17th century. Since then, the “seneses” have kept this unique tradition with the passion that they feel and infect all those fortunate who have been able to be infused with this atmosphere of Siena on the two occasions of the year the Palio takes place: 2nd July and 16th August.

Readiness and excitement start as the event approaches, at the end of May when the “sorteggio” is held, that is to say, when the draw indicates which “contrade” will take part in the Palio of July. The “contrade” are the neighbourhoods of the city ( they total 17) which are part of the three “terzi”(thirds) Siena has been divided in since the medieval times.

The “contrade” are the following:

Terzo di Città: Selva, Aquila, Onda, Tartuca, Chiocciola and Pantera

Terzo di San Marino: Civetta, Leoorno, Nicchio, Montone and Torre

Terzo di Camollia: Istrice, Lupa, Drago, Bruco, Giraffa and Oca

When getting about, the visitors will be able to see on the limits of each neighbourhood the shield representing which “contrada” they are in.

Each “contrada” has its own church and a museum where they keep the Palios they have won. Every time there is a birth in the neighbourhood parents hasten to baptize the newborn in the “contrada”’s church for the child to feel this strong relationship from his/her earliest childhood, a relationship with this unique and festive celebration that has contributed to make Siena an internationally renowned city. In spite of the fact that Siena’s cultural and historical heritage is important enough and cannot be missed by any means, we have to recognize that the Palio is the celebration that gathers the largest number of tourists and curious people who want to relish “in situ” an event which cannot be described faithfully in words.

Passion, adrenaline and intense rivalry are just some adjectives that describe best what two minutes of a race can stir up: An intense competition to get the priceless Palio, a longed prize expected for a year-long wait and in particular the chance to celebrate the victory with big parties, endless dinners, dancing and fun.

And as in every sport competition that is so valued, besides enjoying the expected victory enormously, the winner “contrada” openly delights with the defeat of its closest rival. Among the contrade there is a great rivalry that reminds of the rivalry in the “deporte rey” that makes the winner feel happy for his victory as well as for the neighbouring “contrada” not getting the Palio.

The celebrations of the Palio start 3 days before the race and they continue for some days. Adorned streets, festive atmosphere, fun and why not…..heated arguments among the citizens.

All those who have planned to travel to Tuscany in the following months should not miss this must-participate.


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