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