Saturday, August 30, 2014

... and there was Palio

Palio di Siena, Italy
We happened to be lucky enough to catch Palio di Siena this summer.  Palio is held twice a year, in July and August.  After seeing Piazza del Campo several years ago, I tried very hard to imagine how that worked in what seemed like a small space for a horse race on somewhat banked cobblestone street.

I learned that they lay thick, hard dirt over the brick around the square so the horses can race.  This doesn't always keep the horses from slipping, but more humans fall than horses.  I read this is quite common as it is a bareback race.  

Piazza del Campo filling up with spectators to watch Il Palio

According to information on Wikipedia, the event dates back to the 14th Century.  The races replaced bullfighting, and the first races were on buffalos and then donkeys.  It was not until 1656 that the "modern" Palio was established.

We caught a practice run two days before the big race day.  The crowds still come out for it, so you can experience the real thing even if you are not there for the finale.

We went back to Siena the day of the final to meet some friends.  While we did not watch the event, we did see the Contrade, or districts, parade their horses through the streets in full traditional dress.  

A horse entering Piazza del Campo for Palio

Tickets to watch the event on shop balconies are sold for a premium price.  We stood in the square, which was free. While we did not have a bird's eye view of the race, we were still able to enjoy the event.  If we needed to use any facilities, the side street bar where we had drinks before had no issues with us going back there.

The streets of the piazza are cleaned before Il Palio

Palio requires a lot of waiting for a short race, but it is worth the wait.
Blink and you might miss the horse running by!

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