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10 curious facts about Palio di Siena

Posted by GLflorence on October 31, 2019


The Palio is one of the most awaited events of the Tuscan summer and the most famous horse race in Italy. Since 1633, when the first Palio took place, Siena has been going back in time to live this moment with the same rituals of the past. The Palio is part of Siena’s culture and history, any citizen wants to take part to it! Here’s 10 curiosities to deep you into these magical atmosphere and understand the uniqueness of this event.


  1. Siena’s Palio is not a touristic manifestation

The Palio represents the life of Siena’s inhabitants over time in its different aspects and traditions. Actually, there are specific rules for visitors who come to assist to this incredible race: "do not get close to the horses" in one of them, or “do not make fun of contradaioli tension before the race begins” is another one. Being a local won't save you from judgment either! If you come from Siena but you’ve never taken part of Contrada’s life and you want to join the Palio, you’ll be labelled Quattrogiornista (the one who’s only interested in the event days).


  1. Palio’s years 

The beginning of this curious history lays in 1633, when the first Palio took place with almost the same rules which are followed today. From there on it has been organized every year, with just one pause during the two World Wars. Nowadays the Contrade are 17, but only 10 can participate to the race! The most victorious Contrade are Oca and Selva, but it's impossible to predict who's going to win the year after.

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Un post condiviso da Il Palio di Siena (@paliodisiena) in data:17 Ago 2019 alle ore 7:38 PDT

  1. The real winner is always the horse

Who wins the race is the horse, that can end its ride also without the jockey. It may seem strange, but this happened 23 times, the last one was in 2004!

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Un post condiviso da Il Palio di Siena (@paliodisiena) in data:16 Ago 2019 alle ore 11:57 PDT

  1. A view of privilege

The best viewpoint is the Torre del Mangia, and who can enjoy this exclusive view is the one who has to ring the bells the day of the race. Since we’re talking about the third highest antique tower of Italy, the one in charge stays there and watch the whole race from the top, otherwise he won't be able to get down in time to enjoy the show. 


  1. There’s someone who can’t watch the race

Let’s talk about the Mossiere. He’s the responsible of aligning the horses before the race begins. To avoid public disorders the Mossiere has to leave Piazza del Campo and can’t assist to the entire race. This antique rule has been followed since the Palio was created!

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Un post condiviso da Insta_Palio (@insta_palio) in data:26 Ott 2019 alle ore 11:39 PDT

  1. The "Diciassettino"

He’s a Siena’s citizen that doesn’t side with any Contrada. The reasons? He works in politics or has to do with the organization of the Palio.


  1. The Nonna: not only our sweet grandma!

Nonna” is the Italian translation for “grandmother”. With this word we talk about the Contrada which hasn’t won any race for the longest period. The Nonna is basically the best looser of the event! If it happens to win, the Nonna lose its “Cuffia” (cap) and gives the sceptre to the next unlucky one. Today's Nonna is Aquila, who ascended to the throne in 2016. 


  1. What's the prize?

Following the tradition, the winner takes home not only the silk painted prize, but also 70 silver coins reproducing the antique coins of Siena’s Republic - this for the 2nd of July - and 50 coins for the 16th of August event. Moreover, the Contrada receives an official document of the victory and the inscription in the general register of the municipality. 


  1. The "Drappellone"

Let’s now deal with the Palio, also called "Drappellone" or "Cencio". For those who are not familiar with these words, it basically is the embroidered tapestry given as a prize after the race. It’s commissioned by Siena’s municipality to a local artist - on July’s edition - and to an international one on the August event. The rules that the artist has to follow are very strict, since they have to represent a sacred iconography. A well-know example is Fernando Botero's Palio, realized in 2002 and called “El Palio Gordo”.

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Un post condiviso da Antonio Conversano (@antonio_conversano) in data:18 Ago 2019 alle ore 9:47 PDT

  1. The victory dinner

When the race is over and the award given, the contradaioli go to church to sing the Maria Mater Gratiae and thank the Madonna. After this ritual a dinner between September and October is organized. The streets of the Contrada who won the race get adorned and the winning horse takes part to the party as a guest of honor!

Would you like to know more about Siena? Our tour guide will tell you all the secrets of this enchanting city! Discover Tuscany together with locals!

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Un post condiviso da Alessandro Nesi (@neeeeesiiii94) in data:15 Ago 2019 alle ore 1:56 PDT

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