Video: For the Sienese, You’re Born, Then There’s the Palio, Then You Die

On Siena’s main square, Il Campo, my tour guide Roberto Bechi explains, “For the Sienese, you’re born…there’s the Palio…and then you can die.” We’re in the square for a “charge of the carabinieri” and a practice run where the jockeys get to know their horses (and vice versa). The square is pretty full — but it’ll be twice as packed for the big race tomorrow.

While the jockeys — usually from out of town — are hired hands, the horses are stars. Each neighborhood gets its horse through a lottery. They’re then adopted and showered with love — respected as if special neighborhood citizens. They’re groomed and washed in stables like 5-star hotels.

This is Day 95 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Vienna, the Alps, the Low Countries, England, Siena, and beyond. Find more right here on my travel blog.


One Reply to “Video: For the Sienese, You’re Born, Then There’s the Palio, Then You Die”

  1. I was lucky enough to experience the Palio several years ago. The two weeks prior to the Palio are more exciting than the race itself. They started changing the decorations and street lights early in the week to more ornate fixtures in the contrade colors. There were also impromptu mini-parades that were really just the marching bands from each contrada practicing, but they were in full uniform and had flag twirlers.
    Even the ceremony where they pick the horses was exciting, complete with a fist fight between rival contrade.
    I was actually staying in an apartment in the Onda Contrada, but through pure luck I was invited to the dinner the night before the Palio in the Pantera neighborhood. It was a great experience.
    I was also there learning Italian and taking a cooking class, so my teachers explained in depth the complicated rituals. Even speaking Italian, I would have been lost without the information my teachers gave me.
    On a sadder note, one of the horses racing had to be put down after an accident. The “track” is really a loop around the main piazza, which is uneven, cobblestone and irregularly shaped, like a shell. op

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