The Palio – A Sienese Tradition

Being a native of Kentucky, I’m used to horse racing. It is truly something that has been in my blood since I was a little girl, and the Kentucky Derby is a tradition that all of the Bluegrass State takes part in. When I heard that Siena, Italy had a famous horse race, I never fathomed that it could be as spectacular as it was. However, on July 2, I was proved wrong.

The Palio is a 4-day celebration of Sienese Contradas, or districts, ending with a horse race on the 4th day. Each Contrada is named after an animal or object from nature. There are 17 Contrade in all, but only 10 are able to race. My host family’s Contrada, the giraffe, was in the race. Needless to say, my roommate and I were so excited to get there and watch the race unfold before our eyes.

The day of the race was completely chaotic. The Sienese people are unlike any other when it comes to enthusiasm for their district. Each citizen wore a silk scarf given to them at their birth to signify their passion for their district. Drums and singing can be heard all week long, but it is especially strong on the day of the Palio race.

My friends and I arrived in the main square, Piazza del Campo, at 3:30pm. The race and ceremony wouldn’t start until¬† 7:30pm, but we knew that the square would be packed full of people. We were right. The sun was beating down and everyone was sweating through their clothes in 90 degree heat. However, this did not stop anyone from showing enthusiasm and anticipation for what would prove to be the most exciting race I have ever witnessed.

When the horses walk into the Piazza, thousands of people go completely silent. A chill truly went up my spine. It was so incredible to feel the passion and electrifying force that was sent through Il Campo. It took several hours for the race to begin officially because it is completely legal for jockeys to make bargains and deals with money to help each other win the race. Once it began, The Dragon Contrada had won in 2 minutes. I still can’t believe I was able to see this happen!¬†



This week I truly made it a point to be more engaged in my language class. It was a little hard for me to adjust to this week’s material. I am much younger than the other students in my class, so they are often talking about politics, the mafia, and even slang terms that I don’t quite understand. What I found that truly helps me is to write down words that I hear in conversation and spend an hour at night researching their meaning and recording that in a notebook. I will be able to keep this noteboook and look back at the new vocabulary I have learned to apply it to my conversations.

I have also truly taken advantage of this small city. I’ve gone out to explore the Duomo, a beautiful sitting area with a great view of the Sienese skyline, and made friends with a woman who works at my favorite local pizzeria. The weeks just keep getting better and I wish time would stop!