- The Online Guide to Travel. Il Palio di Siena

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On August 16th, Siena buzzes a little more than usual.

It is the day (one of two) when Il Palio takes over the town.

Not Just Another Italian Festival.

The church bell in the famous Mangio Tower sounds at 8am, as jockeys attend Mass with the Archbishop of Siena. Later the horses will be blessed in their contrade too.

It is a great honour for the jockey to wear the colours of his contrade, but it is the horse who is the star. Unlike other horse-races, the horse can even win without a jockey.

There are 17 contrade (districts) in the city of Siena, but only ten horses may compete for il Palio (the secretly created banner presented as a prize) because of space restrictions.

The Palio Race - copyright Michel Guntern,
The Palio Race - � Travel Notes.

The race is run around the Piazza del Campo, and is over in around 75 seconds; although for the loosers, the shame lasts a lot longer.


Palii were often associated with major festivals of the Roman Catholic Church. The pagentry is deceiving, as behind the colourful facade lies brutality and bloodshed.

Injuries to horses and jockeys are frequent, especially round the notorious San Martino corner. Jockeys can whip their rivals and other horses in an attempt to get round first.

Palio Winner - copyright Michel Guntern,
Proud Winner - � Michel Guntern, TravelNotes.

Siena held the earliest recorded palio in 1238.

Palli were also held in Verona, Padua, Ferrara, and Bologna (during the Middle Ages), but in Siena the tradition continues every August 16 and July 2nd (occasionally the 3rd, and sometimes in September).

Victory is Sweet

Victory Kiss - copyright Michel Guntern, Travel Notes. Cathedral Celebrations - copyright Michel Guntern, Travel Notes.

After the race, the winners go back to their contrade, and even the horse enters the cathedral with its flag waving supporters.

It really is emotional, just watching the spontaneous scenes of love and emotion unfold before your very eyes.

By Michel.

Related Links

Siena - The Palio and Contrade:
A dedication to this ancient tradition from the commune di Siena; complete with audio and video.

How to make motorways interesting? The Italians do fine; with interactive maps, traffic forecasts, and even suggestions of games to play when stuck in a jam.

Italy Travel Notes:
Additional Italian links to get you on your way.

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