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Tuscany, Italy

The Palio di Siena returns to Tuscany this weekend

Posted by Luci Ackers on Aug 14, 2015
The Palio di Siena
The Palio di Siena
  • The Palio di Siena
  • The Palio di Siena returns to Tuscany this weekend
  • Palio di Siena
  • The Palio di Siena returns to Tuscany this weekend


The Palio di Siena is the famous bareback horse race that takes place in Tuscany every summer. The tradition has certainly been in place since medieval times, and perhaps even before that.

There are two race dates: the Palio on the 2nd July, named the Palio of Provenzano, is in honour of the Madonna of Provenzano, and on the 16th August the Palio of the Assumption is in honour of the Virgin Mary's Assumption.

Various Sienese 'contrade' (areas the city is divided into), come together to take part in the Palio challenge and will race one another in the Piazza del Campo which is the medieval town square located right at the heart of the city. The Piazza del Campo is considered one of most beautiful medieval town squares in Europe, highly regarded for its architectural design. During the race the horses must run laps of the square while the jockeys sit bareback. Though not an exact square shape, the Piazza's corners are still sharp and there is very limited space. Three laps are made in a frantic race that usually only lasts around 90 seconds, so it's unsurprising the Palio can sometimes become a treacherous jostling match. There can be collisions and falls, but the first horse to cross the finish line wins, regardless of whether or not its jockey is still mounted.

There are now 17 contrade and 10 of these take part in the pageant and race. Each contrada has its own emblem and colours, there is for example Eagle: yellow trimmed with blue and black; Dragon: red and green; Unicorn: orange and white. As you walk through the streets of Siena it is easy to see which contrada you are in because flags and emblems will hang along the street. Signs, similar to street signs, bearing the emblem are located on street corners to mark the boundaries of the contrada.

The day of the Palio is a big event from morning till evening, with a benediction ceremony and a pageant named the Corteo Storico in which participants wear traditional costume. During the race itself spectators fill the centre of the square for a good view, and line the sides as well. There are centuries' worth of tradition and rivalry in each Palio and so it is not unusual for things to become heated. A large part of the game is to ensure a rival contrada does not win, and the district that does win will celebrate instantly, being awarded with a banner of painted silk.

Celebrations and excitement fill the streets of Siena during the time of the Palio, so if you're staying at Stigliano and fancy getting involved in this memorable occasion, it is simple enough to get there.

Find out how to stay at Stigliano by following the link below.

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Luci Ackers
Author: Luci Ackers

Luci loves getting out and about for a good cycle ride or easy-going walks in the countryside, and thoroughly enjoyed the time she previously spent working for the National Trust. Her love of writing started from a young age and on rainy days nothing beats curling up in a secret corner with a good book.

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