Florence used to have a palio too!

Do you know about the annual horserace in the heart of Siena?  Have you been?  I have and it is crazy and wonderful, and, for the horses and riders, quite dangerous.

But, did you know that Florence had its own Palio?

Above: The Florentine palio in a print by Jacques Callot

It did and the race was called the Palio dei Berbieri.  And, there were other horse races as well in Firenze.

This jockeyless horse race was held until 1870, with the course running from via Ponte alle Mosse to porta alla Croce, the site of the present day Piazza Beccaria. The empty stables and antique carriages still exist within an old palazzo, but are unfortunately closed to the public.  They are a reminder to us of those lost, glorious equestrian days, in Firenze.

Here’s what Wiki has to say about the race: (Google translation)

Race of the barberi

 The Palio dei Barberi or the Barberi race was a horse race and a popular festival in various cities, including Rome , Florence , Padua , Chieti , Pistoia (today the bear’s joust ). A version is still held today in Ronciglione .

In Florence [ edit | wikitesto change ]

The race has very ancient origins, certainly medieval, as also testified by Dante Alighieri , who in the Paradiso tells the great-great-grandfather Cacciaguida :
“My ancients and I were born on the spot
where the last sixth is to be found
from what runs our annual game. »
( Paradise XXVI , 40-42 )

Traditionally it was held on June 24, the day of St. John the Baptist and was one of the many palios that animated the Italian festivals. In particular, similar to the Palio of Siena, a specific type of equine breed was run, the Berber (the name later transformed into a barbero by the people), but did not include any participation of jockeys.

The race started from via Ponte alle Mosse, which owes its name to the fact that it was the starting point, that is, the moves were made, to pass from the Porta al Prato along the Prato’s clearing, where the race was staged for the Grand Duke , the Royal Lodge. From the nearby Palazzo Corsini al Prato, nobles could watch the race from the specially built terrace.

The race continued through the streets of the center, with Via Palazzuolo, then Via degli Strozzi, then Via del Corso (which perhaps is called so for the course of the race), then to the arch of San Pierino and the door to the Cross, where the finish line was and the horses were “sheltered.”

An ingenious system got the race results reported back to the Grank Duke, through a system of colored smoke and messengers with mirrors who were placed upon the rooftops and city bell towers.  The Grand Duke in the stands in Via il Prato and the rest of Florence didn’t have to wait long to hear the news of the winning horse.

The ambitious prize for the winner consisted of a cloth of considerable value (the “palio”), decorated with the Florentine lily and the red cross of the people.

The race took place regularly until 1858. When Florence was later made the capitol city of the newly formed Italy,  demolition took place in the city center, and thus compromised the route. Thus, the long-running Florentine race came to an end.

The race used a particular breed of horses, the Berber, who – in the vernacular became  “Barbera” – gave the name to the competition: Palio dei Barberi, in fact, also called the race of the Barberi .

According to several sources, the origin would be medieval: even Dante quotes this game in the 26th canto of Paradiso.

The departure was always in the same spot, Ponte alle Mosse (the little bridge on the Mugnone from which the street of the same name took its name): from here the race took off .

The route of the palio passed from Porta a Prato, then winding along the streets of the center (via Palazzuolo, via degli Strozzi, via del Corso, arch of San Pierino). The finish line was at Porta alla Croce , in the center of Piazza Beccaria. Those who arrived first received as prizes an expensive cloth decorated with lily, which was replaced with a cash prize since the 18th century.

The Palio of Sant’Anna in Florence

Less well-known, but equally ancient, is the palio that was held in honor of Sant’Anna, every year on July 26th . The celebrations were decided, as our Mattia wrote in a post dedicated to the Florentine festival of Sant’Anna , to commemorate the expulsion of the Duke of Athens Gualtieri di Brienne, on 26 July 1343, the day of Sant’Anna.

The Saint was proclaimed protector of the city and the day became a party, with the celebrations that took place around Orsanmichele and with a prize that included a prize of 32 gold florins.

Feast and Palio of Sant'Anna in Florence - Orsanmichele

And the other palios of Florence

Florence was full of horse racing : they represented one of the greatest entertainments for popular festivals. Palios were held for June 11 (San Barnaba), eight days later for the feast of Santo Noferi. And again on 29 June for San Pietro and Paolo, on 12 July in honor of San Gualberto, on 29 July for San Vittorio, on 10 August on the occasion of the feast of San Lorenzo , co-patron of Florence.

During the summer there were other types of races. On June 23rd, on the eve of San Giovanni, there was the Palio dei Cocchi , a race between 4 wooden carriages along an oval path set up in Piazza Santa Maria Novella, around the two obelisks that still exist today.

Palio dei Cocchi - Giovanni Signorini (Florence 1808-1862) The Palio dei Cocchi in Santa Maria Novella, 1844, oil on canvas

On July 25, San Jacopo, was instead the day of the Palio dei Navicelli : since 1250 the boatmen competed in a “regatta” on the Arno, between Ponte Vecchio and the fishing of Santa Rosa. Departure from the Church with the ass in the Arno , as the church of San Jacopo Soprarno is called in Florence.


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