Siena Palio – which contradas are racing on August 16th 2015?

This weekend the historic city of Siena will once again lay down the earthen racecourse in its famous Piazza del Campo and finalise preparations for the 2-minute long Palio di Siena horse race on Sunday 16th August. (Update : due to bad weather the Palio has been postponed to Monday 17th August 2015). For the 2016 contradas, click here.

Photo of race horses galloping round Siena's Piazza del Campo to win the Palio competition

Siena’s famous Palio horse race draws over 40,000 spectators and lasts just 90 seconds

10 sleek, slender Anglo-Arabian mixed breed horses will charge 3 times round the piazza as 40,000 people crane and strain to see the winner cross the line to claim the Palio banner.

But only 10 of Siena’s 17 contradas or districts can race in the Palio as the shell-shaped Piazza del Campo isn’t big enough for 17 horses to gallop around.

The 7 who didn’t run in last August’s Palio are automatically entitled to race this year. And then a draw, or Estrazione, takes place, often on a Sunday afternoon at least 20 days before the actual race (and normally no later than the second Sunday in July) to pick the final 3 participants.

Competing contradas are drawn in public from this official tombola-style barrel

Competing contradas are drawn in public from this official lottery machine

So which contradas are racing this weekend?

Civetta won the August 2014 Palio but isn’t racing this weekend, although the July 2015 winner, Torre, is so it would be an interesting evening!

The contradas running in the August 2015 Palio di Siena are the seven who didn’t race last August 2014 which are –

Onda – Wave
Nicchio – Seashell
Tartuca – Tortoise
Torre – Tower (winner of the July 2015 Palio)
Oca – Goose
Lupa – Wolf
Istrice – Porcupine

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

Plus three contradas chosen by lot which are –

Valdimontone – Valley of the Ram
Chiocciola – Snail
Selva – Forrest

Seven contradas are automatically entered to race as they missed out last year and then 3 more are chosen by lot and their flags are flown from the Palazzo Comunale town hall - seen here are Valdimonte and Chiocciola

Seven contradas are automatically entered to race as they missed out last year and then 3 more are chosen by lot and their flags are flown from the Palazzo Comunale town hall – seen here are Valdimonte and Chiocciola

The most successful contrada to date is Oca with 63 wins (according to their records, which start from 1644), followed by Chiocciola with 51 and Tartuca with 46.

One curious part of the Palio, however, is that it’s not just important to be racing, but also to be facing your enemies so you can settle old scores for another year.

And it’s not just about winning either.

Jockeys line their horses up at the starting line, jostling, tugging and even whipping rivals to try to unsettle them

Jockeys line their horses up at the starting line, jostling, tugging and even whipping rivals to try to unsettle them

Part of the aim of each contrada is to block or prevent a rival from winning. In fact, if a contrada fails, their enemies will often celebrate just as much as if they themselves had won! So the jockeys use all manner of underhand but legal tactics to try to distract their rivals. And pretty much anything goes from pulling or shoving fellow jockeys, whipping other horses, or even eachother, and generally just trying to get in the way of a good start!

“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

This weekend several rivals are battling it out against echother including Chiocciola versus Tartuca, Istrice versus Lupa and Torre versus Oca and Onda!

The traditional practice races, or prove, have been running over the last few days to enable the horses and their riders – the 10 assassini – to familiarise themselves with the course, atmosphere and noise. Sadly tonight’s final Prova Generale was cancelled by the traditional green flag due to rain to protect the horses from slipping on the earth racetrack. Let’s hope that the weather forecast is better for 7pm tomorrow evening!

The bandiera verde, green flag, is flown from the Palazzo Communale town hall to signal that the Prova Generale of the Palio di Siena is cancelled to dangerous wet weather, August 2015

The bandiera verde, green flag, is flown from the Palazzo Communale town hall to signal that the Prova Generale of the Palio di Siena is cancelled to dangerous wet weather, August 2015

Renowned jockey, trainer and acclaimed “King of the Piazza”, Gigi Bruschelli aka Trecciolino, is racing once again, this time for Istrice. He’s been competing in the Palio di Siena since August 1990, has completed 45 races and won 13 times. He’s hoping to set a new record for the most wins – which currently stands at 14 wins for Andrea Degortes nicknamed Aceto or Vinegar – before he retires. And given that he’s recognised as one of the best strategists in the race, there must be a reasonable chance that he can at least equal it this year! We’ll see!!

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

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

So if you’re in Siena for the Palio, firstly lucky you and secondly make sure to bag your place in the Campo early on to get the best view of one of the most exciting 90 second races you will ever see! Old rivals will be out to settle scores with just 3 lightning laps of the Piazza. Who would you support? Make sure to choose one – it makes the experience more fun, just like betting on the Grand National – and leave me a comment below with your choice. The good news is that we have less than 24 hours to watch to find out just who will win the 2015 Palio di Siena! Keep your fingers crossed the weather holds! In bocca al lupo tutti! Good luck everyone!

Contradaioli spectators battle for the best spots along the barricades

Contradaioli spectators battle for the best spots along the barricades

UPDATE : Il Palio di Siena del 17 agosto 2015 vinto dalla Contrada della Selva – The contrada of Selva won this year’s August Palio di Siena! Auguri, congratulations!

Congratulations to Siena's contrada of Selva who won the Palio di Siena on August 16th 2015

Congratulations to Siena’s Selva contrada who won the Palio di Siena on August 16th 2015

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

Website for the Palio di Siena here

Schedule of the Palii here

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

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

  • Siena can reached by train, bus, car or bike – Siena, Arrival
  • 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 within the contradas, once the horses are stabled there
  • Be quiet and do not take pictures in the contrada chapel or Duomo during the blessing of the horse
  • Take a bottle of water, sunhat and fan with you to the Piazza del Campo, you will need them, trust me!
  • Join in to cheer on your chosen contrada
  • And enjoy yourselves!!!
A Hole In My Shoe

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4 Responses to Siena Palio – which contradas are racing on August 16th 2015?

  1. Paula McInerney says:

    I saw a documentary on this and have always wanted to see it.

    • I would totally recommend it Paula, there is nothing quite like it and you can almost cut the tension with a knife! And if you get to Siena a few days before the Palio you can watch the practice races too for free which helps the anticipation to build! I hope you get there one day!

  2. Forza Sovrana dell’Istrice! I was there on August 15 last, an amazing atmosphere in Siena. Il Palio is very important for the districts and the locals: pride, identity, emotions.. you’re part of it, or you’re not part of it. I think only the residents know what it means participating and winning il Palio.

    • I totally agree! As visitors we can get swept up in the excitement, anticipation and jubilation but I don’t think it will ever mean as much to me as it does to a contradaiolo who’s grown up with it all. Its an honour to be able to watch it though and I’m hoping to see it again one day soon (I was there in August 2010 which seems eons ago now!!) Keep the great posts coming from Umbria!!

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