Things to know about The Palio di Siena festival

Locally known as “Il Palio”, the Palio di Siena is a horse race held twice a year, on July 2nd and August 16th in the city of Siena, Tuscany. It is one of the most popular festivals in the country and it attracts both locals and tourists worldwide.

One of the Things to know about The Palio di Siena festival is that Siena is divided into 17 contrade or neighborhoods and each one has its rider, dressed in the specific colors of the city ward.

About the Race

The first race, also known under the name of “Palio di Provenzano”, is held in honor of the Madonna Provenzano. Race day begins with a special mass and blessing of the horses. The jockeys can also make trial runs for entertainment purposes.

The second race, held on August 16th is also called Palio dell Assunta, the day after the Feast of Assumption, and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

The race itself circles the Piazza del Campo, the main public space of the historic center of Siena. The jockeys ride bareback on a thick layer of dirt and usually the race lasts about 2 minutes. Due to the difficulty of the track it is not uncommon to see jockeys thrown off their horses or horses finishing the race without their riders.

The Starting Line

Another aspect of the Things to know about The Palio di Siena festival is that the starting line is decided before the race by lottery and only 10 horses can take part. The rest of the horses are automatically included in the next race. It’s important to know that no purebred horses are allowed, but only mixed breeds.

The traditional starting gate is a rope and nine horses enter the space, the tenth called the “rincorsa” waits outside. When it enters the race it activates a mechanism that makes the rope drop. This is a process that usually takes a long time.

During the dangerous race, jockeys are allowed to make use of their whips not only for their own horse but also for distracting the rival ones.

The race is won by the horse representing his contrada and not by the jockey. So, if a horse reaches the finish line without its rider (cavalloscosso) it’s declared winner. Another thing that is very interesting is that the loser of the race is the horse that finished second, not last.

Winning the race rewards the horse with a banner of painted silk or palio, which is being hand-painted by a different artist each race. The ceremony can bring occasional outbreaks of violence between rivals because this race is more than a simple horse race. Rivalry and competition between the contrada make it the event of the year.

Extraordinary Palios

During the period between May and September an Extraordinary Palio takes place. This third palio is often associated with major events for the community of Siena. The last one, coinciding with the advent of the millennia was held on September 9th 2000 and was won by Giuseppe Pes. This palio was held to honor distinguished guests passing through or visiting Siena.

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