Giddy up! If you are after a holiday experience steeped in tradition, surrounded by history and offering one of the best party atmospheres on the planet – then it’s time to escape winter and get into the fun of a European summer holiday in Italy – with a bit of power. Horse power.
In the breathtaking Italian city of Siena, a place more known for its magnificent architecture and hospitality, the crazy, Palio di Siena horse race takes place twice a year, during the summer.
The first of these races was held this week (July 2nd) and the next will be on August 16th. The race dates celebrate significant feast days on the Catholic calendar, honouring the Madonna. They are four-day affairs of parades, pageantry, parties and catholic blessings (followed by a party).
The race, only for mixed-breed horses is crazy a 90-second bareback dash on a dusty track around the medieval Piazza del Campo. Riders and horses, each representing a section of Siena, do three laps of Piazza del Campo.
But this is more than just a horse race – it’s a culmination of ongoing rivalry between the different districts of Siena, competing not for a rich prize-purse, but for a special hand-painted silk banner of the Virgin Mary. The banner (or palio) is considered to bring great luck and honour to the winning district.
The races have been held every year since 1656 (except for one year during World War II). The history of the event extends back further to 1590 where the participants rode buffalos – it was a much slower race back then.
If you are looking for a genuine experience of Italian culture and history in a cacophony of colour – you’ll love the raw emotion of the Palio di Siena.
Entry is free, but you can fork out 250-600 Euro for a grandstand seat if you don’t want to stake your piece of ground 12 hours prior to the event start.
While food and beverage prices around the city are inflated during event times, one of the magical things about the Palio di Siena is that it is not a manufactured event. It has roots deeply ingrained in the city’s history as represents the fierce and proud attitude of its inhabitants.