After posting the blog post from on the Siena Palio, I am inspired to add from my personal recollections of the race. I was incredibly fortunate to attend a Palio in the early 1990s.
My Italian boyfriend said the Palio was not to be missed and he made a lot of special arrangements for my first experience. He was assolutamente right–it was not to be missed!
We drove to Siena that day from his home in Assisi. He had used his contacts so we could watch the race from a balcony window to the left of the Palazzo Publico and I prepared to be amazed. I was indeed!
It was an unbelievable thrill to be a part of the living history of the Palio. We stood outdoors on the balcony on a warm sunny Italian pomeriggio with a perfect view of the entire race. It was an incredible experience to be there.
My favorite part of the day of the race was the banner guard that circled the race track prior to the race. Each contrada enters their own people wearing their own contrada colors. It felt like I had time traveled back to the Italian Renaissance.
I grew up with a horse-loving father and we not only rode horses but attended rodeos almost every summer Sunday. I even competed in some of the events. Sadly for my father, I am not a lover of risk-taking horseback riding, either to do or to watch. Because of that, it was hard for me to watch certain parts of the Palio, for the race is still brutal even though it is much less so than it was during its early centuries; horses and riders careen into the temporary walls set up all around the periphery and riders fall off horses and get trampled. It is all very chancy. You can see it in this video:
After the event was over, we ran around all the side streets in all the contrade (neighborhoods of old Siena), which were filled to overflowing with rabid fans (think American super bowl fan fanaticism)
all wearing their contrada colors.
Each contrada maintains a museum of sorts with all sorts of paraphernalia from years past. These museums are typically only open on the day of Palio, so it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see not only the race, but the museums as well.
The one aspect of the Palio that absolutely blew my mind is that the winning horse is brought into the Siena Cathedral! The secular and divine come together in patrioticism.
Somehow I just never thought I would live to see the day when I’d see a horse in a magnificent Italian cathedral!! But that was before I knew Italy at all!
Here are some more fun shots of the hysteria surrounding this annual event in Tuscany!