Tuesday, July 5, 2011
A Horse Race Like You've Never Seen
The race is held every July 2 and Aug. 16. The Palio festivities begin 4 days before the race. Each contrada, district, has their own government, emblems and coat of arms, colors, patron saints and nobility. These contradas DO NOT LIKE EACH OTHER. During the four day "foreplay", so to speak, each contrada has music and dining set up in the streets for all its patrons. I’m talking seating for hundreds on almost every street in the contrada. Their colors and emblems and mascots are all on display in flags, scarves, shirts etc. The day of the race the horses, as I stated above, are blessed by the parish priest. The streets are filled with medieval pageantry and medieval dress. Each contrada then begins to escort its horse through the streets. Mostly men follow the horse and sing their special “contrada” song. There are two ways to see the race. The race is held in the center of town in the Piazza del Campo. There are ancient buildings surrounding the piazza. You can rent a space in one of these buildings securing a window seat (which will have food, drink and a toilet) for a considerable amount of money or you can do what we did, get in the middle of the throng, for free, and wait it out. Once you get inside the race ring, you can not leave. So we waited, I guess, 3 hours for the race to start. The race is over in about 60 seconds. The people are yelling and screaming, the colors of the contradas are flying and sure enough, a riderless horse wins and the jockey calls the other guy to fight. We didn't get to see the fight. It was on the other side of the track but I'm sure it was a slap around kind of thing. I don't know. These folks take their Palio very seriously. The winning contrada gets to lord it over the other contradas until the next Palio a month and a half later. It was an incredible experience.