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Behind the Palio: a tale of people and horses

I cannot believe it, finally I’m here, exactly on the racing track, yellow as the typical Senese stone. For years, I used to watch the race on television, and actually I must admit now that is really very different. You do not feel the sounds, the words of contradaioli, their attitude towards other people “who are not senese” and their care about the horses.

Horses come first

They are the focus point together with the events and parties that every contrada organizes in their headquarter: secluded places where only people born in the contrada can enter. Not the tourists and not any other people. I’m lucky, I know! Contradas in Siena are side by side, even the ones, which consider themselves enemies since ages, and this is what you, feel, walking in the streets.

During the rest of the year, those ways are part of history, they are telling you the tales of one of the most ancient boroughs in Italy. But things changes right before the Palio. The symbols of rivalry clearly come out: flags, lights, people wearing the scarf of their contrada. It’s amazing how I was soon caught in the atmosphere and in the mood, even if I’m a “stranger”.


The choice

Four days before the race, the whole City Council, leaded by the major of the town, gathers in the square. Horses enter from the upper part and stay in the courtyard under the Mangia tower. All the people already know them. An old man explained me that they run in local races and then they are selected for the Palio.

I’m there too, waiting, pressed by the people who wants to know! I’m wondering what are we there for. Well, this is one of the most important moments of the Palio, here the race begins to be real: the major draws and decides which horse will run for every contrada.


For sure not all the horses are good and everyone knows that having a nag is not a nice thing.


The silence is total, no one even breathes, only some shout after the assignment of the horses. One by one, they are taken by the people of the contrada, parading in a precise order (the leaders, the man and last women and children) to take him to the stable. A secluded place where the horse is pampered as a child.

I was parading, too. And it was a unique emotion, feeling part of a group of people, strong and powerful in their unity! From that moment, every time that the horse is moving, people of the contrada is accompanying him to the Piazza del Campo. A ritual that keeps on repeating until the day of the Palio.


And what about the jockey: “he’s not so important and may change even in the day of the race. As you may know, a horse running without a fallen jockey, can win the Palio, too”, told a girl during the dinner at the contrada.

It’s the day before the Palio, the tension is higher and higher, who will win?

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