The Siena Palio - history and visitor information
The Siena Palio is very much not some quaint traditional ceremony that survives to put pictures on postcards and to please the tourists. The residents of Wimbledon may head off for a fortnight in the sun when the tennis is on, and you'll not find packs of locals enthusing about how great the Edinburgh Festival is, but for a Sienese to not get involved in the Palio would likely see them cut out of the family inheritance. Your Contrada is your second family, your loyalty to your flag, to your history and to your horse and rider is reinforced from birth, and passions run very deep for all things Palio. There used to be almost 60 Contrade, now there are 17, ten of which compete each year. The ten are made up of the seven that did not run the previous year, plus three drawn by lot.
The Palio has its origins in medieval times, evolving from the buffalo and then donkey races that filled the entertainment gap caused by the banning of bull fighting. Initially held in July only, the first modern Palio was run in 1656. The August edition began in 1701 and became a permanent feature in 1802 when the city of Siena officially took over the management and running of the event. The riders still ride bareback, around a Piazza del Campo packed to the gunwales with spectators, the horses racing around a track of earth laid for the occasion.
The races themselves are over in a blur, but it is the before and after atmosphere, the 24 hour celebrations, the colour, the music, the costumes and pageantry that all come together to fire the senses of locals and visitors.
Below are two shots showing you the area - the San Martino curve - from where you'll be viewing the race itself.
We offer three 'packages' for a taste of Siena at Palio time - a visit to the Palio itself, preceded by the various ceremonies; a visit to the day before pre-race trial and a third package that simply combines the first two. You may opt to view the race from the 'bleacher' style seating lining the piazza, or from the terrace of one of the historic buildings that ring the piazza, and for the Palio or pre-Palio packages you may opt to join in the lively post-event dinner.
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