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Palio di Siena

The Palio di Siena, only a few kilometres away from Hotel Certaldo, is not a mere touristic event, but a deeply rooted tradition and a pivotal time for all the citizens of the city.

The Palio, at least at first sight, is a horse race where each horse with its jockey represents a neighborhood of Siena, called contrada (city ward). Since 1729, there are 17 contrade in Siena, when a decree stated borders, names and characteristics of each contrada.

This old tradition, which digs its roots in the 17th century, has always took place on a regular basis, with no interruptions, always following the rules dictated by the tradition of the 1600s.

Every contrada functions very much like a state of its own inside the city of Siena: each one has its own Prior who presides over a group of counselors and a captain assisted by some members of the contrada.
Every contrada has its own church with the headquarters often attached to it; here all the activities and meetings of the contrada take place. The contrade which can compete for the Palio are: l’Aquila (Eagle), il Bruco (Caterpillar), la Chiocciola (Snail), la Civetta (Little Owl), il Drago (Dragon), la Giraffa (Giraffe), l’Istrice (Crested Porcupine), il Leocorno (Unicorn), la Lupa (She-Wolf), il Nicchio (Seashell), l’Oca (Goose), l’Onda (Wave), la Pantera (Panther), la Selva (Forest), la Tartuca (Tortoise), la Torre (Tower) and the Valdimontone (Valley of the Ram).

 palio
The race, called by the locals carriera, takes place in Piazza del Campo, the famous shell-shaped square every year on July 2nd and August the 16th. Only ten of the seventeen contrade can run, selected on a lottery.
In the four days prior to the race, a whole ensemble of traditions, preparations, ceremonies and appointments take place, such as the blessing of the horse which will be running during the Palio. On the morning of the race, the horse is paraded through the contrada’s streets and alleys and brought to the contrada’s church in order to be blessed. The priest from the contrada sprinkles holy water on the animal reciting the traditional phrase: Va’ e torna vincitore! (Go forth, and come back as a winner!).
On the afternoon of the Palio, a historical parade takes place, during which the different contrade show their representatives, all dressed up in historical costumes. Further to this, the jockeys make their entrance in the square, where the race will begin.



A peculiarity of the Palio is the jockeys riding strictly bareback, followed by another pillar rule of this competition: even the horse without rider, if first to arrive, can win. This is what is called cavallo scosso, literally ‘shaken horse’, meaning a horse whose jockey has fallen during the race, which is indeed quite common.
The order in which the horses and jockeys will be positioning along the start line is a secret up to a handful of minutes before the Palio, and is part of the many rituals entailed in this event. The horses must stand one close to another in a perfect line, not bumping into each other or fall behind. This is of course very difficult to achieve, since the horses are very nervous to be in a square filled with thousands of people and lights. The alignment can thus go on for minutes, even hours before the real race begins.
The race itself is very short in time, as it consists only of the horses running three lapses around Piazza del Campo, laid out with a thick layer of dirt for this occasion in order not to harm the animals.
After the victory, the members of the contrada rush exultantly to embrace the horse and the jockey and collect il drappellone, the banner of victory, which will be blessed and then kept in the museum of the contrada forever. From this moment a whole period of festivities begin for the members of the winning contrada, who enjoy a time of dinners, parties and events celebrating their victory. 

The Palio is an extremely important event for the people of Siena, and as such it is also subject – together with joy – to a certain level of tension. For this reason, tourists and locals alike who are not Sienese should observe a few crucial rules: do not come close to the horses, both before and after the race; do not disturb the members of the contrade, especially in pivotal moments such as the Palio rehearsals, the race itself and the moments before and after the celebrations; avoid sarcastic comments on the Palio; do not support an adversary contrada of the one of the person you are talking to.

Taking part in the contrada dinners is possible only via previous booking through a people knowledgeable of the Palio universe or by direct contact with the contrade themselves. Watching the Palio from Piazza del Campo is free of charge, although being on the place several hours prior to the event is needed, as constant streams of people are moving across the city since the earliest hours of the day. if, on the other hand, you would like to have a better view from the upper-storey balconies or terraces, a reservation is needed.

Hotel Certaldo is the perfect spot to easily reach Siena with private means of transport or by train and bus.

Our Staff will be delighted to help you with all the information you may need! 

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