Siena Palio – the runners and riders on July 2nd

Each July centuries of history and feuding come to a head in the first of Siena’s 2-minute long Palio horse races – the second is run in August. 10 Anglo-Arabian horses gallop 3 times around the main piazza in a gladiatorial contest watched by over 40,000 spectators. So who are the contenders for the July 2nd 2015 Siena Palio and why do they do it? Click here for the 2nd July 2016 contradas!

Ten horses and their riders compete in the annual Palio of Siena, Tuscany

Ten horses and their riders compete in the annual Palio of Siena, Tuscany

The city of Siena is split into 17 districts or contradas. Some are allies, some old enemies. But only 10 compete in the annual Palio races, as basically there just isn’t room for them all in the concave Piazza del Campo.

Over 40,000 people are packed into Siena's famous Piazza del Campo to watch the Palio horse race

Over 40,000 people crowd into Siena’s famous Piazza del Campo to watch the Palio horse race

The 10 contradas to race in July are traditionally chosen on the last Sunday in May.

Photo of flags for sale - Each of the 17 contradas in Siena has its own flag, symbol and colours

Each of the 17 contradas in Siena has its own flag, symbol and colours

The 7 contradas that didn’t race last July get an automatic place. So, apart from Istrice (Porcupine) who are excluded from running this year, the 6 contradas with a guaranteed place are –

  • Civetta – Owl
  • Leocorno – Unicorn
  • Nicchio – Seashell
  • Oca – Goose
  • Torre – Tower
  • Valdimontone – Valley of the Ram
Palio racehorses and their jockeys enter the Piazza del Campo in Siena watched by over 40,000 spectators

Palio racehorses and their jockeys enter the Piazza del Campo in Siena watched by over 40,000 spectators

Lots are then drawn in the estrazione lottery for the final 3, or in this year’s case 4, places. So the 4 additional contradas racing are –

  • Onda – Wave
  • Pantera – Panther
  • Selva – Forrest
  • Tartuca – Tortoise

Warm-up trials have already started in the Campo so the horses and riders – the 10 assassini (assassins) – can familiarise themselves with the course and atmosphere.

Renowned jockey Gigi Bruschelli, aka Trecciolino, warms up with his racehorse before the Palio race

Renowned jockey Gigi Bruschelli, aka Trecciolino, warms up with his racehorse before the Palio race

Renowned trainer, jockey and “King of the Piazza”, is certainly ready to race. The 46 year old is aiming for his 14th and 15th wins in just 17 years and hoping to set a new record for the most wins before he retires. And given he is known as the best Palio strategist to ever compete, it’s a fair bet that he might just do it.

“Once you know how good your horse is then you decide what to aim for, either to block your enemy or go for the win.” Gigi Bruschelli aka Trecciolino

Photo of the Palio racehorses waiting in Siena's Piazza del Campo to be assigned to the contradas by lottery

The Palio racehorses wait in the Piazza del Campo to be assigned to the contradas by lottery

Sadly this year hasn’t started as positively for the horses as one fell and broke her front right foot during the warm-up trials and despite immediate treatment could not be saved. Animal rights campaigners have called for this year’s Palio to be cancelled but so far it looks like going ahead as planned.

“For this Piazza you need three things: heart, liver [meaning, “courage”], and hocks.” Aldo Mantovani, Jockey, c.1930

The racehorses line up at the starting rope ready to race in Siena's famous Palio horserace, 2nd July

The racehorses line up at the starting rope ready to race in Siena’s famous Palio horserace, 2nd July

So if you’re likely to be in Tuscany for the Palio make sure to bag your place in the Campo or around the nearest TV as over seven centuries of feuding culminate in one of the hardest fought races in Italy. Old arguments will be settled for another year as rivals fight it out in the only way they know how with three theatrical, tumultuous turns around the Piazza del Campo. But who will win the July 2015 Palio di Siena? Only time, and a bit of backstage provocation, will tell! Leave me a comment to let me know if you’ve ever witnessed the thrill of the Palio and what you remember most? And in the meantime 10 rival contradas, their horses and jockeys are preparing to go head to head again – on your marks, set, go!

UPDATE – After over an hour of trying to get the horses to line up correctly, the 2015 July Palio della Madonna di Provenzano was finally won by the Torre contrada’s horse Morosita Prima ridden by jockey Andrea Mari. Its the first time Torre has won since 2005 so as you can imagine the celebrations went on into the night!!

Useful information

Palio della Madonna di Provenzano – 2nd July 
Palio dell’Assunta – 16th August

Tickets can be booked via various agencies depending on whether you want seats on the bleachers or balconies.

For balcony seats click here
For bleachers click here 
Entry to the middle of the Piazza del Campo to stand is free

Schedule of the Palii here

TV coverage – Rai2 transmit live from the Palio from 6pm in both July and August.

Getting to Siena information here

Film & Book – A new film and book about the Palio are to be released in Autumn 2015 – more details here

Tips for attending the Palio

  • Wear the contrada fazzoletto or scarf with respect around the neck, across the shoulders not on wrists, bags or anywhere else!
  • Don’t trespass into the contrade during dinners unless you have an invitation or ticket
  • Don’t trespass into the contrade centres, ie into the gated areas, once the horses are stabled there
  • Be quiet and don’t take pictures in the contrada chapel or Duomo during the blessing of the horse
  • Take a bottle of water and fan with you to the Campo, you will need it!
  • Join in to cheer on your chosen contrada
  • And enjoy yourselves!!!

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4 Responses to Siena Palio – the runners and riders on July 2nd

  1. I really want to experience an Italian festival of some sort! 🙂

    • lizbert1 says:

      The Palio is a great one to see! And its not just one day – the warm-ups go on for a few days beforehand so there is stuff to see for around a week all in all! Happy travels!

  2. Cecelia Pierotti says:

    I happened on the Palio quite by accident on my first trip to Italy back in 1979…..my friend and I found ourselves mid piazza during the race and it was frightening watching these horses and riders racing around at neck break speed…..with only mattresses protecting the horses and spectators from falls or some kind of accident…..very exciting!!!! And the celebrating after the win was great fun….

    • lizbert1 says:

      Its a real confusion of emotions isn’t it Cecelia! Fear and anxiety vs excitement and joy for the winners. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it before or since! Its like New Year’s Eve combined with the Superbowl combined with a Rolling Stones concert combined with the football world cup final!! I hope to see it again sometime although nothing will compare to that first experience!!! Thanks for commenting and happy travels hon!! ;o)

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