Palio di Siena

When: From 29th June to 2nd July / From 10th to 14th August, 2014

Where: in Siena, Italy

The Palio of Siena , better known as just “Il Palio” is a horse race held twice a year on July 2nd and August 16th in Siena. At the Palio ten horses and riders, strictly bareback make a competition, each with the clothes of their own district called Contrada. The Palio of July 2nd is named Palio di Provenzano, in honor of the Madonna of Provenzano. The Palio of August 16th is named Palio of the Assumption, in honor of the Catholic feast Assumption of Mary.

The historical parade precedes the race and attracts visitors and spectators from all over the world.

The race takes place in Piazza del Campo, on which a thick layer of is lad dirt. The jockeys spin in a circle very fast and very often are thrown away by the horses while making the treacherous turns in the square. It is common to see the horses finish the race without their jockeys on their saddles.

The race has medieval origins. Piazza del Campo is the central square of the city, was the site of public games, many of which combative such as battles, a kind of multi-faceted boxing match or brawl, rides, and in the 16th century , bullfights. Public tenders organized by the districts were popular from the 14th century on wards, called Palios in the long run, have been carried out throughout the city .

The Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1590 organized the races for the Contrade in the Piazza del Campo. The first modern Palio took place in 1656 and since then it has taken place every year only on July 2. In 1701 the race on August 16th was added. The race in August (The Palio of the Assumption) was probably introduced “spontaneously” as part of the feast and celebration associated with this important festival.

In each race, only ten of the seventeen participating Contrade: the seven who did not attend the previous year and three others chosen by drawing lots. The horses are of mixed race, no purebred horse are allowed.

The race is preceded by a spectacular procession called the Corteo Storico, which includes bishops and flag bearers in medieval costumes. A team of policemen on horseback armed with swords  also participate at the court.

At 07:30 for the race in July and 19:00 for the race in August, the detonation of an explosive charge echoes across the plaza, it signals to the audience that the race is about to begin. The competition will run for three laps around Piazza del Campo.

The seventeen contrade playing Palio are know as: Aquila, Bruco, Chiocciola, Civetta, Drago, Giraffa, Istrice, Leocorno, Lupa, Nicchio, Oca, Onda, Selva, Tartuca, Torre and Valdimontone. The best winning Contrada is Oca with 65 victories and the second is Chiocciola with 51 victories.

For several years, the Palio has been the focus of several protests by animal rights organizations, including the Anti-Vivisection League. The concerns are for the falls, which in some cases lead to the death of horses. Another problem is stress for the horses.

In recent decades, the city of Siena has adopted a series of measures to ensure the protection of horses (and riders) before, during and after the race. Some of the measures taken are:

  • A compulsory medical check;
  • The prohibition on the administration of stimulants, antidepressants and local anesthetics;
  • The establishment of the register of the horses trained to run;
  • Protections with mattresses in the curves of the path;
  • The monitoring of the layer of tuff;
  • Care of horses;
  • The alcohol testing for jockeys.

Palio di Siena Le Contrade Palio di Siena2 Palio di Siena3