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Palio in Siena

If you’ve watched the latest James Bond movie, you’ve caught a glimpse of the Palio in Siena, Italy.  It’s a no-holds barred bareback horse race that often ends with riderless horses and a few crushed folks along the way.

Each year it is run in the Piazza del Campo at the center of an enormous ring of ancient buildings.  The piazza is sloped toward one side like a natural embankment, and at all times of day you’ll find hundreds of people lounging to take in the sun, enjoy a quick bite to eat or commune with friends.  Restaurants line the sidewalk space against the buildings.

The Palio is an intense neighborhood rivalry, with horse and jockey teams defined by the contrada they represent.

It is a medieval tradition that has carried forward through the centuries, with the winner being awarded a unique hand-painted silk.  The race takes place in July and August, with a maximum of ten teams in each competition. We safely watched the race on television, but visited the site just this week.  This picture of the race in progress was borrowed from Wikipedia.

As we learned, the winning jockey and his supporters have the right to parade through the Piazza every night for a year.  With flags flying, banners waving and a lively brass band playing, the parade was a welcome midnight break for revelers in Siena.