In a few days, exactly on 16 August 2015, the city of Siena in Tuscany will host its famous Palio, a competition in the form of medieval equestrian tournament that takes place between 10 of the 17 districts, called Contrade, in which the city is divided. taking part, the seven Contrade that did not run the previous year and three drawn from the ten remaining.
The competition takes place twice a year: the Palio of Provenzano on July 2nd and the Palio of the Assumption on August 16th. Each Palio lasts four days, starting with the draw of the horses, followed by the test days until the final race that requires to run three times around the Piazza del Campo, riding a bareback horse.
The Palio race is preceded by a famous parade, called Historic Walks, to which more than 600 participants representing the 17 districts take part.
We don’t have information about the first Palio, but it seems to date back to 1633. In addition, documentary sources allow us to find news of 385 Palio races having as main character the current contrade, for which there are historical records dating back to the 1400’s.
The districts are identified in portions of the municipal territory, and each resident has the duty and the title to participate in the life of their Contrada. The oldest division of Siena is in three parts, called Terzi (literally Third in English): Terzo di Citta’, Terzo di San Martino and Terzo di Camollia. Initially the Contrade had a military and civil role, while today they mainly have social and recreational purposes. The 17 current contrade remained unchanged since 1729 with the “Notice on the Borders” released by the then-governor Violante Beatrice of Bavaria.
In 1981 the city decided to give life to an organization, the Consortium for the Protection of the Palio, to control the image of the Palio in Italy and around the world.
Wondering what is the prize? Obviously the prize is the Palio, a precious drapery painted over the years by world-renowned artists with artworks dedicated to the Virgin, the city and the festival. These are closely guarded in the Contrade’s museums; the oldest, still intact and recognized officially, is dated 1697 for Panther Contrata.
Today, the testimony of a rich history and tradition made up of rules, superstitious rites and customs handed down from generations still lives as then. Siena has been able to erect the most famous Palio, the only one to be held continuously from its origins to today. It is an excellence for one of the most visited and admired cities in the world and a real social union of people that breathe, live and die for their Palio.