Il Palio Horse Race in Siena Travel Guide


When is Il Palio?

Thankfully, Il Palio is not one of those touristy events; this horse race started back in 1656 and has been going strong ever since. Although Il Palio is not the oldest palio, it is the one of the most well-known.

Il Palio takes place twice a year in the Piazza del Campo. The first race, held on July 2, is called the Palio di Provenzano. The second race, held of August 16, is called the Palio dellíAssunta. On certain occasions, the Sienese community may decide to hold a third race between the months of May and September. Some events that the community felt called for a third race included the Apollo 11 moon landing, the centennial of the unification of Italy and the dawn of the new millennium.

Where did Il Palio come from?

Il Palio started out as a way for the different districts of Siena to compete with each other. Originally, there were 59 districts, also known as contrade, that competed; today, 17 remain, and out of those 17, only 10 of them compete in Il Palio. The July race was originally held in honour of the Madonna di Provenzano, an apparition of the Virgin Mary. The August race was originally held in honour of the Assumption of Mary. Although Il Palio has some roots in religious events, today, the palio is a strictly secular tradition enjoyed by Christians and non-Christians alike.

What can I expect to see at Il Palio?

The Corteo Storico is an elaborate costume parade that takes place in the early afternoon on the day of the race. Some of the people youíll see in the parade include pole-bearers, jockeys, musicians, pages, flag-bearers, archers and soldiers. Many parade participants are dressed in brightly coloured historical costumes designed to resemble clothing worn in the 15th century.

The Palio di Provenzano begins at 7:30 pm, and the Palio dellíAssunta begins at 7:00 pm. 10 jockeys ride horses bareback around the Piazza, and the first to make it around the Piazza three times and cross the finish line wins. Itís not actually necessary for the jockey to still be mounted on the horse to win the race; jockeys are commonly thrown off their horses, and the rules only require that the horse be the one to cross the finish line.

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