Italian horse races

palio 2 770x162

Italian horse races: not only in Siena!

Memories from the medieval world summed up in a word, “palio”, the key-word that enables to know a number of amazing events. Their staging is impressive and exciting feelings fill the air during these duels in the open air. There are plenty of “palii” in Italy and some of them are so famous that spread adrenaline all around and mix up history and legends, the secular and ecclesiastical power, the medieval sobriety and the Renaissance splendour, arms and flowers, cloths and crosses.

 New facts for ancient battles feature, for instance, the most famous Italian race the “palio” of Siena, the Tuscan town that looks like a snail with its tangled narrow streets. Here the race is a thousand-year-old celebration that takes place every year in the amazing Piazza del Campo: the first one on July the 2nd, in the honour of the Madonna di Provenzano, the second one on August the 16th, to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption. There are generally two horse races. But you can also organize an extraordinary race like the one that was organized in 1969 in order to celebrate the landing on the moon. Seventeen “contrade”, the seventeen districts that make up the town, take part in the race with their horses that are chosen according to a particular system of drawing lots and alternation. The celebration is opened with the blessing of the horses and their jockeys in the different churches of the “contrade”. Before the race there is a historical parade, the ancient costumes and governments from the republic of Siena are shown and the flag throwers from each district offer a wonderful show then the horses and their jockeys are aligned for the starting that is featured by a long rope that stop horses from running away: the many “false starts” increase the excitement and when the starting is finally valid the horses crazily gallop around the square for three times. If a jockey is unsaddled the “shaken down” horse can go on running and it may even win the race that is over in less than one minute and a half.

Let’s move on to the Silver medal of the Italian “palii”  that is shared between Asti and Ferrara. Asti was nicknamed “The town of hundreds towers” in the Middle Ages and organized its first “palio” in 1275. The proud of the “free Council” is celebrated every year on the third week of September and it is divided into different stops: the oath of Rectors, the offer and estimate of “palio” and on the Thursday before the race there is the parade of flag-throwers. On Sunday morning the solemn historical parade is held featuring eight hundred characters disguised with their historical costumes belonging to the different districts of the town and in the afternoon twenty-one jockeys ride without the saddle: in the final round nine horses and their jockeys compete by running around for three times on a 1.300 metres track. A horse without its jockey can be the winner in Asti, too.

 Let’s go to Ferrara now and its Palio of S. Giorgio: it has been held since  1259 but the Town Hall wrote down its Charter in 1275 and that is the reason why Asti and Ferrara contend the record of the most ancient “palio” of Italy. The “palio” of Ferrara is one of the best historical commemoration and it has been held in May since 1471 in the honour of the Duke Borso d’Este to celebrate his investiture. The races were  “reset” in 1968 and the so-called “modern” palii to be won are four, each for every category, the event is divided into three different moments that feature one thousand characters in their Renaissance costumes that look like the ones that are painted  on the frescoes by Francesco del Cossa at Palazzo Schifanoia. The races are held on the last Sunday of May and only the residents who can ride without the saddle can take part in it by following the same rules as the palio of Siena with one exception: the laps are four.

Luciana Francesca Rebonato

Web content manager
All Rights Reserved

Perhaps you can be interested in...:

▶ destination Italy
▶ Italy of art cities
▶ italian dream
▶ Italy of regions
▶ studying italian