The event of art, history and tradition
On 16 August one of the two annual editions of the Palio di Siena is held in the scenic Piazza del Campo, marking an appointment with tradition, the life of the Sienese people and its various aspects and feelings.
The Palio has ancient origins and the present track with horses, called ‘the round’ in Piazza del Campo, has taken place from the 17th century, a legacy to horse racing that crosses the city, usually ending in Piazza del Duomo. Since then, there have been reports of hundreds of horse races in the Campo by the Contrada’s protagonists, of which there are historical traces since 1400. The territory of the city is in fact divided into 17 Contrade – neighbourhoods – with the boundaries established in 1729 with an Act by Violante di Bavaria, the City Governor. The Contrade are identified in portions of communal territory inscribed inside the wall. Those born in them are ‘contradaioli’, and they are obliged and honoured to participate in the life of their district.
Yet, the Palio di Siena is not just a historical re-enactment. It is the manifestation of the identity of the city of Siena and its popular tradition in its various aspects and expressions. Celebrations last four days and offer a host of events and entertainment before the actual race.
Tourists crowd Siena from the terraces overlooking Piazza del Campo in order to have a place in the front row: the Palio is a show to attend at least once in a lifetime. The horses must perform three laps of the track for about 1000 meters and only the first past the post can claim victory, which is sanctioned by three judges.
The Palio prize consists of an original painting on silk and is shaped like an elongated rectangle. Its value is unique because it is a testimony of a particular historical period of the city of Siena. Every Palio bears the symbols of the various governments that ruled over it.
Photos by Elisa Lovati courtesy of the Consortium for the Protection of the Palio di Siena.