The Palio of Siena
Prenota il Sangallo Park Hotel e scopria la magia del Palio di Siena
The history of the Palio seems intertwined with the origins of Etruscan Siena, according to the similarity of the first races and equestrian games of the Etruscans. In the twelfth century there was the "Palio alla Lunga", with horses galloping at high speed through the streets of town, arriving at the Duomo. The race was part of the celebrations of Maria Assunta. The prize for the winner was the "pallium", a precious decorated cloth. The Palio "alla lunga" was run exclusively by nobles, while to common people were reserved games a lot more dangerous, as the "pugna", attended by hundreds of people: they were real and dangerous battles. In the early seventeenth century, the Palio race moved to Piazza del Campo because of the hazards of the "Palio alla lunga". This is the beginning of the "Palio alla tonda". July 2nd, 1652 is the official date when the Palio of Siena was born, following the rules that are still in force. From that time no longer the nobles or individuals were racing in the Palio, but the Contrade themselves. Since 1774 the City of Siena proclaimed the organization of 2 Palios, on July 2nd and August 16th, the day of Maria Assunta.
The days of the Palio
Visiting Piazza del Campo in the days of the Palio means seeing it under an entirely different light: the ground is scattered by dirt (ochre colored "tufo") on the circular track where horses run and wooden grandstands surrounding the track are built. The contrade are currently seventeen, but the runway can not contain more than ten horses, then a particular system, alternating shifts and partial draw, guarantees a certain frequency of participation. The seven Contrade which did not run the Palio the previous year participate the following one, while the remaining three contrade are drawn. On the 29th of June (for the Palio of July 2nd) and on the 13th of August (for the Palio of August 16th) the horses are brought in Piazza del Campo, but only after passing accurate veterinary visits and selections. They are grouped in batteries and tested to verify their speed. Captains of every contrada will meet the Mayor of Siena and choose the ten best horses, those who will run. The operations of the draw follows: it will award the horses to each of the ten Contrade participating the Palio. Once assigned, each day, at 9.00 and 19.00, trial runs are held to accustom horse and jockey to the ups and downs and curves of the dry path. At the end of the fifth test, the "prova generale", each Contrada organizes a big propitiatory dinner. The morning of the Palio day, at about 7:00am in the Chapel in Piazza del Campo, the Archbishop of Siena celebrates the Mass of the Jockeys. Then the last race, known as the "provaccia", takes place. The jockeys' names are now registered, from this moment they can no longer be replaced; the horses will then receive the blessing at the churches of each Contrada. At 3:00pm the "sunto" (i.e.the bell of the Mangia Tower), starts tolling. The historical procession winds through the streets of town, ending in Piazza del Campo. The outbreak of the "Mortaretto" announces the exit of the horses from the Palazzo Pubblico, these will now position themselves at the starting point, "la mossa". The tenth horse will run into the departure point, determining the start of the race; and the end of three laps (1000 meters) the winner will be declared.
The Contrade of Siena
Eagle, Caterpillar, Snail, Owl, Dragon, Giraffe, Porcupine, Leocorno, She-wolf, Nicchio, Goose, Wave, Panter, Wood, Tortoise, Tower, Ram. The contrade which are deleted: Rooster, Lion, Bear, Oak, Strongsword, Viper. The Contrade of Siena, which were very numerous, gradually reduced to the current 17. They are real administrative organizations, bringing together citizens of the same district. They were established between the end of the twelfth and thirteenth century initially as decentralized Municipality with administrative and public order tasks. Their current borders are still as they were outlined by a Statute issued by the Princess Violante of Bavaria in 1729. Most all aggregation of the people from Siena are linked to the Contrada, whose colours they wear with pride during the days of the Palio. The competitive spirit and passion of the people from the Contrada is to be seen in the streets of Siena during the Palio days when the "contradaioli" parade with their coloured scarfs. They escort their horse and jockey with songs of encouragement, celebrating their Contrada or mocking the enemy, songs based on the same tune, it probably comes from the song "Verbena" that, outside of the Palio days, represents the pride of all citizens of Siena, a sort of hymn: "In the Piazza del Campo / There grows the Verbena Long live our Siena / Viva our SIENA In the Piazza del Campo / There grows the Verbena Long live our Siena / The most beautiful of all towns! "
The museums have accumulated, in their secular life of social activity, a political and administrative exceptional heritage, linked to the territory and its historical events. The most valuable pieces in each museum are undoubtedly the Palios, cloth painted also by well known painters such as Renato Guttuso, Sassu, Salvatore Fiume, Fernando Botero. There are also precious works of jewelry in gold and silver, some of which date back to the XIV and XV century. There are collections of archives, very old letters and records, verbal proceedings meticulously catalogued, telling the story of the Contrade and Siena, up to today. The collections are enhanced by valuable paintings and statues made by old masters, religious vestments, bridles of horses, gifts received by celebrities, relics of saints, helmets worn by famous jockeys, busts of important personalities. Often, on the walls, there are frescoes testifying the historical facts during which the contrada was a protagonist. The museums in the contrade have reduced opening hours, they generally can be visited only by reservation.