The day we didn’t get thrown out of the Palio

Some of you may recall a previous post where Jean and I, and the dogs, were ejected from the Palio rehearsal back in early July and ended up walking through Siena in the rain feeling dejected, wet and alone. Not our finest moment.

Well there is a second Palio held each year in August. The very helpful family that own our cottage reminded us of this earlier in the week. They said it was busier than the July Palio and that there are rehearsals every morning at 9am (not really something we could contemplate) and at 7pm for the 3 days preceding the actual Palio race.

Here was our opportunity for redemption.

We planned this like a military operation. We knew that we had to get into Siena early so we aimed for 3pm. No dogs – sorry girls. The bars around the Campo are forced to shut at 3:30pm until 5pm while the track is watered. They reopen between 5pm and 6pm and then close until the rehearsal is over at 8pm. So the plan:

1) a late lunch at a wee cafe off the tourist track from 3pm to 5pm

2) a drink or two at our favourite Campo bar from 5pm to 6:30pm

3) into the centre of the Campo where the viewing is free

4) watch the rehearsal

5) back to the bar for dinner and drinks and then home.

For once our planning worked perfectly. At 7pm we found ourselves in the centre of the Campo along with about 5000 other people. All crammed in waiting for – well we didn’t know quite what to expect but given the other 5000 people standing with us, it had to be worth watching – I guess.

We saw the preparation of the track, the parade of the officials and the parading of the mounted Carabineri. All leading up to the main event – the Palio horses and riders mock racing around the track for a lap or two before pulling up and then the final parade – each contrada and their horse as they left the Campo.

Jean was particularly taken with the cavalry who did a first lap at a stately trot in formation but for the second lap were at full gallop with swords drawn – a god old fashioned cavalry charge.

It was interesting to watch the children from the competing contrada who had a special section of the stands. The kids had no hestitation to “have a go” at their competitors in chants or gestures, winning the palio was everything – a far cry from the political correctness of our homeland where winners and losers are frowned on and simply being involved is rewarded.

During the rehearsal race one of the Palio jockeys fell from his horse and was taken away by ambulance. As always the riderless horse kept racing but it shows the danger involved for both horse and rider on the narrow, tight Palio track. Particularly harrowing are the two 90 degree turns which, when taken at full speed are recipies for disaster.

After the rehearsal it was a drink and dinner, and then home. On the walk to our car we passed one of the contrada dinners. It was held in one of the main streets of Siena that had been closed for the occasion. And that’s what the Palio is really about – building and maintaining communities.

Update below pictures.

Update: The race the next day was won by the Giraffe Contrada – the red and white jockey in the photos. Four horses fell on the final lap however it appears none were seriously injured. There is ongoing controversy about animal welfare issues and the Palio. Despite there being a number of changes made over the last few years to make the race safer almost every year there are horses injured or killed. Interestingly the Palio was recently removed from the list of nominated Italian world heritage events as it was felt the backlash from animal rights groups could impact on the chances of approval for all the events being nominated.

For our part, we watched the race on TV the next day and agree with the animal rights groups.