The International Kitchen Blog: Experiencing the infamous Palio horse race
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Experiencing the infamous Palio horse race

Next August 30, 2012 Previous

Karen marked Siena's Palio off her travel bucket list this August, which she recounts in our newsletter of the month. Now Elisa, a Sienese of the contrada Istrice, from our Tuscany office talks about her memories and history of the grand event!

Our founder Karen Herbst had the pleasure of being at Palio in August, and she asked us to write about the event, which is a horse race that takes place twice a year, (July 2nd & August 16th) in the evocative frame of Piazza del Campo, Siena’s medieval shell-shaped square.

Many of you can imagine how passionate the audience can be while preparing and watching the Palio, how colorful and entertaining the competition and the medieval parade are… but you have to be there to feel the people's contagious enthusiasm, the joy of the winning team, the love for a medieval tradition still living in the citizens’ heart like a religious faith.

The Palio is… simply an amazing experience that everybody has to see once in a life. I arrived in Siena a day before the competition to feel the adrenaline mounting. Each and every person in Siena belongs to the so-called "Contrade": the town boroughs, of which there are 17. The contrada form a colorful and lively picture of Siena, and proudly bear their medieval names, such as Turtle, Porcupine, Wave, Dragon and many others.

On August 15th, the day before the race, every contrada organizes a dinner along streets and squares for its comrades… a huge culinary festival based on delicious Tuscan dishes, where you can perceive how each contrada is like a loving family for its members. In the meantime, the horse is blessed by a priest during a solemn ceremony; it may seem funny, but it is, in fact, a ancestral tradition that considers the horse equal to a divinity.

The morning of the race, Piazza del Campo is already completely crowded. Before the competition I could assist in a folkloristic parade that evokes the ancient, late-Medieval Siena Republic, with more than 600 people in traditional costumes recreating a glorious atmosphere and the Contrade history. It seemed like I was in another age, surrounded by banners, ancient Siena personalities, medieval figures and guilds’ representatives.

Afterwards, the race began: 10 Contrade furiously running three times around Piazza del Campo with jockeys screaming and pushing their horses to go as fastest as they could. Everybody was calling the name of his/her contrada while following the race. A huge roar welcomed the winner of this edition, the Valdimontone, who was waiting for this moment since 1990, the last time it brought the Palio home. Its jockey, Scompiglio (Helter-Skelter), was so determined and concentrated during the Race, so passionate while screaming at the top of his lungs the name of his horse, “The Specialist”, so capable of dominating the near Turtle's horse… that he really deserved to win this Palio edition.

The Valdimontone people seemed completely crazy: they brought Scompiglio along the city street as if he were a rockstar, and they went on celebrating all night long. I couldn't do anything but join the joyful crowd, meandering through Siena’s streets and being enraptured by their colors, flags and people sharing an unforgettable emotion.

So what are you waiting for? Join the Palio, live a memorable experience!

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When planning your culinary vacation for 2013, consider joining the Palio celebration and other unique, wonderful cultural experiences!

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