Il Palio: Challenging horse race in Siena

Amazing Europe | | January 31, 2011 at 12:05 am


Officially called as the Palio di Siena, Il Palio is the name given by the locals to a unique horse race held in this town of Italy on 2nd July and 16th August every year. This is the contest of the 10 horse riders who represent a unique Contrade or City Ward from the total of 17 in suitable multi-colored costumes. Each Contrade or a city ward represents one of the zones in which the Siena town is split and that all together compete for a prestigious award through this ardent race.


Each Contrada is recognized with its own unique symbol that is filled with colors, which represent the town area. On the above two mentioned days, when you stride on the streets of Siena, you will be able to identify quite easily as to in which Contrada you are currently in just by looking at the flags as well as symbols during the Il Palio. In all, there are a total of 17 Contrade, which are as follows:

  • Aquila (Eagle)
  • Drago (Dragon)
  • Civetta (Little Owl)
  • Chiocciola (Snail)
  • Bruco (Caterpillar)
  • Istrice (Crested Porcupine)
  • Nicchio (Seashell)
  • Giraffa (Giraffe)
  • Leocorno (Unicorn)
  • Lupa (She-Wolf)
  • Selva (Forest)
  • Oca (Goose)
  • Onda (Wave)
  • Pantera (Panther)
  • Torre (Tower)
  • Tartuca (Tortoise)
  • Valdimontone (Valley of the Ram)

Palio of July 2 Vs August 16

In July 2, the Il Palio is termed as Palio di Provenzano as it is held in honor of the Siena church named the Madonna of Provenzano. On the other hand, the Palio on August 16 is referred to as Palio dell’Assunta as it is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary. Regarded as a complex occasion, the Palio is dominated by plethora of rules and customs of which a majority are identified only by the members of contrada.

Before and on the day of celebration

Before the actual contest, a historic pageant locally termed as the Corteo Storico is performed, which is the first main attraction drawing countless visitors from all across the world. Then, a series of 6 trial runs occur after which the race finally starts around the main square of the Piazza del Campo that is purposely edged with tuff clay. The authentic loop race of the jockeys riding the bareback around the Piazza del Campo takes place three times in a day, each of which lasting for a maximum of 90 seconds. In each race of 10 Contrade participants, 7 of them are those riders who could not compete in the former race of the day, while the rest are chosen by lots. Although the celebration of Il Palio lasts for more than four days, it is always on the last day that the race is held unlike the lots drawing called Tratta and horses’ allocation to the contrade, which happens on the first day. During the race, it is not unexpected to see the horses passing through the winning line without their jockeys who have been thrown off while making a hard effort to overcome the risky twists in the square.

On the last day close to the Palazzo Comunale in the chapel, at 8 am, the Bishop holds a mass for the jockeys, which is customarily known as the ‘Messa del fantino’. It is after this that the last trial takes place in the square, which is called ‘provaccia’. In the presence of the mayor at 10.30 am, the names of the jockeys are fixed after which no withdrawal can occur. Then, the Contrade at 3 pm perform a blessing rite for horses and then a huge parade featuring 600 folks in historical attires bring the city streets to life for two hours before reaching the Piazza where it remains until 6.30 to 7 pm. In few minutes, the firecrackers start to burst indicating that the horses are now entering the square to begin the race at the ‘Mossa’, a section in the square edged by two big pieces of thick rope.

If this entry occurs without any mistakes, the race starts and the horses then take three rounds where they pass through the risky turns such as the San Martino’s thinnest twist where several falls due to crash are bound to occur if not dealt with utmost dexterity. This is the main reason why many animal lovers do not support Il Palio. At the end, the horse traversing the finish line first is the winner irrespective of whether his jockey is there or not. The Palio prize, ‘Drappellone’ (big drape) is given to the winner, which is a big large painted canvas made annually to be exhibited in their contrada museum. Lastly, the victorious Contrada members with their horses thank the Lord by entering into at the Church of Provenza (July) or Duomo (August).

Best place to see

By the Duomo.


  • Villa Elda Hotel – 3 star – near Duomo and Piazza
  • Il Giardino Hotel – 3 star – near Duomo and Piazza
  • Grand Hotel Continental – 5 star – near Piazza
  • La Perla – Budget – closest to Piazza
Related Posts with Thumbnails

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge