How I became passionate about il palio

When you’re in Siena and surrounding, the word will be floating everywhere around – palio. It is one (though definitely the most famous one) of the medieval soldier games that remained until today. It belongs to the city like milk belongs to Oreo, unseparable. You can buy literally anything with palio theme – from classic palio postcards and magnets to more-hardcore-fan palio underpants, palio sunglasses or palio shower gel made of the winning horse’s sweat.

Il palio takes place twice a year, in July and August, on the magnificent Piazza del Campo, right in the city’s heart. It is a huge celebration, not only the few seconds of the race but the whole thing – the square is changed completely, everything becomes colourful and rivalry between contradas gets even more intense. Mind you, it’s not only about winning the entire race, it is also very important to beat your rival contrada at the same time. Which is why palio remains thrilling until the ecstatic finish. Funnily (for the spectators, not for the jockeys), it’s quite common to see a jockey hitting the jockey of the rival contrada with his baton. Which, surprisingly, is allowed. Strangely, picking up a guy from the horse and throwing him aside isn’t.

Watch this thrilling palio from July 2016:

Also, check out Alessia Bruchi’s stunning photos here.

It is the horse, who’s celebrated and admired, not the jockey. It’s even allowed to enter the church before the race where it’s told by the church man “Go and come back as a winner!”. Theoretically, if a horse loses (or eats) its jockey on the way, yet still crosses the line first, it is a victory!

During my stay in Siena I decided to become a “contrada collector”, master of the most nerdy sport I’d invented myself. Well, it was an instant decision, rather then an invention – go and search the city streets for signs of all 17 contradas! As it turned out, it was by far the most effective way of discovering Siena. Getting lost in the little streets, paying attention to all the architecture details, finding not very visited contrada museums, simply beautiful! And I got them all, much better than Pok√©mons!

And here they are:

  • Valdimontone
  • Onda
  • Leocorno
  • Pantera
  • Selva
  • Nicchio
  • Torre
  • Drago
  • Aquila
  • Civetta
  • Istrice
  • Bruco
  • Lupa
  • Tartuca
  • Giraffa
  • Chiocciola
  • Oca

Now, as you can see in the picture, the contrada signs can be anywhere – mostly on the houses, where you’d expect traditional street signs but there are also flags hanging out of the windows or tiny contrada picture on the electricity transformation boxes (not sure it’s called “transformation boxes”).