Palio di Siena
Twice a year, Siena is host to the famous horse race known as the Palio di Siena. Ten riders, representing ten of the 17 contradas (city wards) mount up, bareback, and complete three laps around Piazza del Campo at breakneck speed. Don’t miss it on your next trip to Italy.
Ninety seconds later, and it’s all over. Not all the riders make it to the end; some are thrown on the way round. It’s not unheard of for a rider-less horse to be first across the finish line.
Two palios are held each year. The first on 2 July, known as the Palio di Provenzano, in honour of the Madonna of Provenzano and the second on 16 August, known as the Palio dell’Assunta, in honour of the Assumption of Mary.
The palio as we know it today, on horseback, first took place in July 1633, the second palio was begun in August in 1701.
Before this, Piazza del Campo was host to many other races, such as the bufalate on buffalo back and the asinate races on donkey-back.
If you want to see the Palio you have two options, either you can head to the centre of Piazza del Campo. It’s free, but you won’t find any chairs. It’s first come, first served. Or if you’d prefer to pay for a seat, you can get a more comfortable view from one of the balconies of the buildings overlooking the show.
Visiting Siena around Palio time is a great chance to experience an authentic slice of Italian life and see other events like historical parades.