- The Online Guide to Travel Il Palio di Siena

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Siena, Italy
Siena, Italy by Il Vagabiondo on Unsplash.

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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 in Siena
The Palio Race in Siena.

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 Victory Kiss Cathedral Celebrations

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

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.

Related Links

Siena - The Palio and Contrade:
Ten Contradas out of 17 run the Palio on July 2nd, the seven that did not run the Palio of July of the previous year, to which are added three drawn from among the ten that ran. Similarly for the Palio of August 16, with extraction of the three on the first Sunday after the July Palio.

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