The Siena Palio horserace in Tuscany is world famous. It runs twice a year – once in July and once in August – and attracts around 40,000 spectators to the Piazza del Campo. There’s just one problem; the track round the Campo is only big enough for 10 horses to race, but Siena has 17 contradas or districts all keen to compete. The solution is simple; a draw to decide which contradas are racing on 2nd July 2016. So let’s have a look at who will be on the starting line. See the footnote for the winner……!
L’Estrazione – Selecting the contradas to run the Siena Palio
The estrazione or draw takes place at 7pm on the last Sunday in May (for July’s Palio) in Siena’s fabulous Palazzo Pubblico Town Hall. (The draw for August’s Palio is held no later than the second Sunday in July).
The Mayor and the captains of all 17 contradas attend the ceremony inside whilst the crowds of anxious contradaioli citizens wait outside for news.
And for those whose contrada has been the longest without victory, known as the Nonna or Grandma of the Palio, this is certainly a key moment to see whether they’ll have a chance to race again. But there’s more than one step to the draw, so they have to be patient!
First, seventeen coloured balls representing each of the contradas are placed in an urn to mix up the balls and the Mayor selects 10 balls in succession. Is that it?!
Well no, actually the first 10 contradas are not runners for the Palio – that would be a bit of an anticlimax wouldn’t it?! This is just to select the 10 contrada captains who will then select the Palio participants!
The 7 contradas that didn’t compete in 2015 get an automatic pass to this year’s Palio and each is drawn in turn and announced with trumpets. The contrada’s flag is then flown from a window on the first floor of the Town Hall so that the waiting contradaioli citizens know who has been picked.
And then on to the final stage of the estrazione.
The 10 remaining contradas that have not yet been picked are placed in an urn and the captains pick the 3 final competitors for the horserace to great fanfare! And again, their flags are flown outside the town hall to huge cheers!
By the end of the estrazione 10 fabulously fluttering flags should be flying outside the Palazzo Communale. Its a fabulous sight and marks the start of the countdown to the Palio.
Which contradas are racing on 2nd July 2016?
So now we know how the draw works, who will be racing? The 7 contradas with a guaranteed place at the starting line on 2nd July 2016 are –
- Bruco – Caterpillar
- Lupa – Wolf
- Drago – Dragon
- Giraffa – Giraffe
- Chiocciola – Snail
- Aquila – Eagle
- Istrice – Porcupine
And the final 3 contradas joining them are….drum roll please…..
- Tartuca – Tortoise
- Oca – Goose
- Nicchio – Seashell
What’s next in the preparations for the Palio?
There’s plenty of preparation still to happen before the Palio actually takes place!
The horses that will compete have yet to be selected. The contrada captains will whittle the selection down to 10 closer to the Palio. But they don’t get to choose their own horse as horses are assigned by another draw on 29th June. You’ve just got to keep your fingers crossed that you get a good one!!
In the meantime, the next few weeks will see the city come to life! Each Sunday a contrada processes through the city, flags flying and drums pounding. The streets are decorated with bright lanterns and multicoloured flags. And ceremonial dinners within each contrada will be held in the run up to the big day. You’ll be able to feel the build up if you’re visiting Siena!
There’s just one question left – who will you be supporting? Leave me a comment with your favourite Italian festival and in the meantime on your marks, get set, g-g-g-g-goooooooooo!!!!
And the winner of the Palio di Siena 2nd July 2016 is……
La Lupa!!! Well done to Lupa, the wolf and the Nonna of the Palio – i.e. the contrada that had gone the longest time without a win – a full 27 years in Lupa’s case! Their horse Penelope just pipped Drago and Nicchio to the post at the last turn in a fabulously exciting final lap. L’Aquila now becomes the Nonna, desperate for a win! Well done all round to Lupa and may the celebrations continue long into the night……!!!
Useful Palio information
Assignment of horses to the contradas – 29th June. The ceremonial draw takes place in the Piazza del Campo and is open to the public, just don’t get too close to the horses in case you scare them!
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.
Arriving in Siena information here
Film & Book – A fabulous new film about the Palio was released in Autumn 2015. If you are interested in Siena, horse racing or both you need to watch it, its fascinating and gripping! Details here
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