Palio di Siena

Palio di Siena is a horse race that has its roots in the transition between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It is held twice a year on July 2 and August 16. Tryouts for this great Siena Italy horse race occur for some time before the main event, and celebrations occur for some time afterwards, meaning this is pretty much a party town for a good portion of the summer. Sometimes a third Palio (called the Extraordinary Palio) will be held between May and September to mark auspicious occasions. An extra one was held in 1945 to mark the end of World War II. An extra one was held to mark the first moon landing of the Apollo 11 in 1969, and another was held to mark the change of centuries in 2000.

Palio di Siena History and Facts

During this period leading up to the Renaissance, the area of Tuscany south of the city of Florence was marked by fierce competitions among rival Duchies. Many of the cities are walled, because some of these competitions led to actual armed conflict. More often these rivalries manifested architecturally or as sporting competitions. In San Gimignano, you can see the results in the imposing towers that were built by rival families striving to exhibit their wealth and power. The Il Palio Siena Italy is the result of competition between the city's different well-defined neighborhoods (or "contrada"). The neighborhoods were all anxious to display their patriotism and how important they were in maintaining Siena's independence from Florence. What resulted was the no-holds-barred Siena Italy Horse Race where there are few rules. A horse can win even if its rider was thrown off earlier in the race.

There are seventeen neighborhoods that vie for only ten places in the big races. Jockeys have the status of rock stars in their neighborhoods. Horses are brought to each neighborhood church where they are blessed. The first modern Il Palio Siena Italy took place in 1656, and the race rules (few though they are) have remained pretty much unchanged since then. The race is done bareback, and the horses are all mixed breeds. No purebreds are allowed. Jockeys dress in the colors of their neighborhood. A number of trail races are held before the big race. A grand and colorful parade (the Corteo Storico, with marchers and horsemen in medieval costume) precedes the big race. There are few rules of decorum during the race. Palio di Siena 2017 riders can push and shove each other, hit other horses, and generally do whatever it takes to win. It is a dangerous course around which the riders gallop at breakneck speed, and the race itself takes just over a minute.

Palio di Siena Directions

Unlike the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona Spain that takes place in the streets throughout the city, the Palio di Siena 2017 is held within a relatively small area, the Piazza del Campo, the central square in the city. The Campo is located about 1,000 feet to the east of the beautiful thirteenth-century Siena Cathedral. To get here, either go by foot or take the bus. Buses 21, 54, 589, and 637 all stop at nearby Piazza Indipendenza station.

Palio di Siena Tickets

Before, during, and after the major Siena Italy horse race days, the city is packed with tourists and locals. Siena hotels are at a premium during this time. More than 60,000 spectators squeeze themselves into the center of the Campo (the race course runs around this crowd), and entrances to the Campo are blocked when it is filled. The spots to view the races are also at a premium, and consist of simple bleachers and more expensive box seats. These are sold out months in advance. One of the best ways to get tickets is to book Tuscany vacation packages from tour operators who have purchased blocks of tickets for their clients. Some of the best viewing spots are from the windows and balconies of buildings that line the Campo, and these are also in very high demand. If you have the resources and the correct number of people in your group, it is possible to reserve an entire balcony.

Hotels Near Il Palio Siena Italy

The city center is filled with a variety of lodging options. The closest of the Siena hotels to the Campo is probably the charming Residenza d'Epoca Palazzo Fani Mignanelli at Banchi di Sopra 15, located only steps away. It is a boutique hotel housed on the third floor of a medieval palace. There are a number of apartment vacation rentals, some with views of over the Campo. If you want to reserve one of these, you need to begin working on it at least a year before the races.

Image: Edoardo Forneris (flickr)

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