Siena’s Palio bareback horse race draws crowds of thousands

Monday saw one of Tuscany’s most famous events, the Palio di Siena, come to a close in a final race which drew a crowd of thousands.

The main race is the culmination of a day of competition between the city’s 17 contrada, or districts, with only ten making it through to the final event. An entire itinerary of traditions and festivities take place throughout the day leading up to the race, beginning with the Messa del Fantino, a mass attended by Siena’s bishop and the horse jockeys. Following this, each horse is blessed by their contrada, before a large parade with historical costume travels throughout the city.

The Piazza del Campo is the venue for the final race, and has been since 1659, a track of thick dirt and sawdust lined with cobblestones. The competing horses and jockeys line up in the Mossa, waiting for the race to begin, before they set off on a fast-paced three laps of the track, taking around a minute and a half. This year, the Selva contrada were victorious, and received the traditional grand prize of the drappellone, a large painted canvas with a changing design every year, to be displayed in their local museum.

First held as a civic celebration in 1482, the Palio di Siena is one of the oldest bareback horse races in the world that still takes place today. Since 1701, it has been held twice a year on July 2 and August 16, and is now one of the most important events in Siena’s cultural calendar.

Tuscany is a region rich with historical and cultural events such as the Palio, with celebrations of food, religion and tradition going on all year round. If immersing yourself in the way of Tuscan life is the holiday for you, check out our boutique hotels in Tuscany on our website.

Image: Janus Kinase, available under Creative Commons.

Andrew Panteli
Andrew is a firm believer that travelling like a local inevitably leads to the best off-the-beaten-path finds which truly make a destination remarkably more memorable. From traditional Indian festivals in humid Hyderabad to fresh seafood pasta by the Sorrentine Peninsula, he appreciates variety when travelling. He hasn't been everywhere, but it’s on the list.