Palio di Siena (or Il Palio) is a very old but still observed festival in Siena at least twice a year. The tradition dates back to medieval times. It is a horse race where the horses are ridden bareback. The different municipalities may be represented by a rider and his horse. They wear the distinctive colors of their ward or contrada (plural contrade). The event is complete with parades of locals in full medieval costume, with some bearing the identifying banner. The banners usually carry the signature colors, the symbol of their name. Some contrade are called Oca (goose), Selva (forest), Tartuca (tortoise), Civetta (little owl), etc. There are 17 contrade although only 10 horses and riders compete at any race. Just about all the different aspects of the town participate including the church, the schools, government buildings, and local businesses. There is much entertainment with good food and wine served. The festival culminates in the horse race at the Piazza del Campo, and the winner is conferred the prize banner.
We were walking through Siena on a sunny but cool Saturday when we noticed all the young boys and men dressed in orange and green, lining up just outside one of the churches*. They all looked happy and proud, bearing beautiful banners and musical instruments. We stepped aside to watch their procession. They walked the narrow winding stone streets of the city to end in the Piazza. All these activities would presage a much bigger event in a few weeks when different contrade would parade and the horse race would take place.
We were all in awe of the vibrant colors displayed by the participants. What a feast for our eyes!
*When I researched the different contrade, it appears that the group we watched were from the contrade of Selva (forest).
Note: Palio di Siena is not to be confused with Palio di Asti, which is also a festival celebrated in Asti, dating back to the 1300’s. It also culminates in a horse race. It also has spectacular displays of colorful costumes and banners.
- Il Palio dell’Assunta 2012 in Siena Italy in August (vinoconvistablog.me)
- Il Palio è la vita (whostolemybasil.wordpress.com)
- Military police officer falls spectacularly off his horse during parade before Italy’s centuries-old Palio di Siena race (dailymail.co.uk)
- Centuries-old Siena Palio race begins in Italy (photoblog.nbcnews.com)
- Morning in Siena (vineideas.com)