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Palio Di Siena

Scene of the race on the Piazza del Campo

The Palio di Siena (known locally simply as ''Il Palio'') is a horse race held twice each year on July 2 and August 16 in Siena, Italy, in which ten horses and riders, bareback and dressed in the appropriate colours, represent ten of the seventeen ''Contrade'', or city wards.
The Palio held on July 2 is named Palio di Provenzano, in honour of Madonna di Provenzano, who has a church in Siena. The Palio held on August 16 is named Palio dell'Assunta, in honour of Assumption of Mary.

A magnificent pageant, the Corteo Storico, precedes the race, which attracts visitors and spectators from around the world.

The race itself, in which the jockeys ride bareback, involves circling the Piazza del Campo, on which a thick layer of dirt has been laid, three times and usually lasts no more than 90 seconds. It is not uncommon for a few of the jockeys to be thrown off their horses while making the treacherous turns in the piazza and indeed it is not unusual to see unmounted horses finishing the race without their jockeys. The Palio in fact is won by the horse who represents his contrada, and not by the jockeys.


The earliest known antecedents of the race are medieval. The town's central ''piazza'' was the site of public games, largely combative: ''pugna'', a sort of many-sided boxing match or brawl; jousting; and in the 16th century, bullfights. Public races organized by the ''Contrade'' were popular from the 14th century on; called palii alla lunga, they were run across the whole city.

When the Grand Duke of Tuscany outlawed bullfighting in 1590, the ''Contrade'' took to organizing races in the ''Piazza del Campo''. The first such races were on buffalo-back and called ''bufalate''; ''asinate'', races on donkey-back, later took their place, while horse-racing continued elsewhere. The first modern Palio (called ''palio alla tonda'' to distinguish it from the earlier ''palii alla lunga'') took place in 1656. At first, one race was held each year, on July 2; a second, on August 16, was added later.

17 Contrade

The seventeen Contrade are: ''Aquila'' (Eagle), ''Bruco'' (Caterpillar), ''Chiocciola'' (Snail), ''Civetta'' (Little Owl), ''Drago'' (Dragon), ''Giraffa'' (Giraffe), ''Istrice'' (Crested porcupine), ''Leocorno'' (Unicorn), ''Lupa'' (Female Wolf), ''Nicchio'' (Seashell), ''Oca'' (Goose), ''Onda'' (Wave), ''Pantera'' (Black Panther), ''Selva'' (Forest), ''Tartuca'' (Tortoise), ''Torre'' (Tower) and ''Valdimontone'' (literally, "Valley of the Ram" - often shortened to ''Montone'').

Ritual and Rivalry

The ''Palio di Siena'' is more than a simple horse race. It is the culmination of ongoing rivalry and competition between the ''contrade''. The lead-up and the day of the race are invested with passion and pride. Formal and informal rituals take place as the day proceeds, with each ''contrada'' navigating a strategy of horsemanship, alliances and animosities. There are the final clandestine meetings among the heads of the Contrade and then between them and the jockeys. There is the two hour pageant of the ''Corteo Storico'', then all this is crowned by the race, which takes about 75 seconds to complete. Although there is great public spectacle, the passions displayed are still very real.


*Brown, Margaret Mcdonough and Titus Buckhardt (1960). ''Siena, the City of the Virgin''. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
*Drechsler, Wolfgang (2006). "The Contrade , the Palio and the ''Ben Comune'': Lessons from Siena", ''Trames'' 10(2), 99-125.
*Dundes, Alan and Alessandro Falassi (2005). ''La Terra in Piazza. An Interpretation of the Palio of Siena''. 2nd of the new edn. (Orig. 1972). Siena: Nuova Immagine. (Standard work, but meanwhile very controversial because of its Freudian interpretation.)
*Falassi, Alessandro (1985). " Pageant: Siena's Everlasting Republic", ''The Drama Review'' 29(3), 82-92.
*Handelman, Don (1998), ''Models and Mirrors: Towards an Anthropology of Public Events'', Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
*Silverman, Sydel (1979). "On the Use of History in Anthropology: The Palio of Siena", ''American Ethnologist'' 6(3), 413-436. (Most important counter-model to Dundes & Falassi.)
*Pascal, C. Bennett (1981). "October Horse", ''Harvard Studies in Classical Philology'' 85, 261-291.
*Spicer, Dorothy Gladys (1958). ''Festivals of Western Europe''. Wilson.
*1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, ''[http://35.1911encyclopedia.org/S/SI/SIENA.htm Siena]''
*[http://www.ilpaliodisiena.com/ITALIA/SIENA/contrade/75victor.htm ''Il Palio di Siena'' website - English Summary.]

Source: Wikipedia