A Day at the Races – Italian Style


Ian (TripinIt) writes: Siena, a beautiful city any day of the year, really turns on the style for its Palio. Run twice a year (2nd July and 16th August) this world famous race makes for an amazing spectacle.


The race itself takes part in the central piazza, Il Campo. About 60,000 people cram into the centre and take part in the 5 hour long festival. Much of the most interesting parts take place on the days and hours prior to the actual race. Each quarter of the town (known as contrade) hold feasts, blessings and general festivities; and deck-out the streets, attempting to out-do their closest opponents. 


An important things to remember: of course it is great to win the race, but – equally important – it is fundamental that your arch rival doesn’t! Before the race there is much behind the scenes talk and discussion between the contrade, making sure that agreements are made to ensure that your opponent is hindered as much as possible. It is no surprise therefore that getting the horses to the start line is often a considerable challenge for the starter, as each jockey tries to block, kick, jostle and generally mess-up the others chances. In this July’s event getting them lined up and off took 45 minutes, not bad considering the actual races takes about 5 minutes to run (three laps of the piazza).


The Palio is a very personal occasion for the Sienese and this is what makes it so special. Although the town is full of tourists and on-lookers, one does feel that one is observing from the outside and there is a sense of real tension between each quarter of the town. To make the most of the day, head there early and wander from one area to the next. Lunch in a back street with the locals, and witness each contrada preparing for the event. The only downside is that you have to enter the piazza well before the event and stand/sit in the sun (so prepare with sun cream and drinks). We would recommend standing in the centre, from there you can see all that’s going on, and you don’t have to push and shove. The alternative is to buy a seat, but with prices starting from about €200, a free place in the piazza seems a bargain!


The Palio is an event that all lovers of Italy should experience once in their life. Next appointment 16th August – see you there.