The Palio, infinite passion
The Palio of Siena
I’ve always watched the Palio on TV, since in my family we thought ourselves as “Tuscans” before anything alse, and then one day I happened to witness it in person.
The first time you see the palio you might feel puzzled or amused.
I’ve had the chance to experience it first hand and I’ve realised that it can’t really be defined as an historical re-enactment, as a horse race or as a show. For the Sienese who are “part of it” all year long, it represents life itself. For them it means feeling a sense of belonging to a specific district, called contrada, and being involved in it explosions of passion, rivalries, secret agreements, revenges, pagan and holy traditions, courage, hatred, selfshness and kindness. All these tangles spontaneosly in Siena, without any suppression.
Cherised and brought to Church to recevive a blessing, the horse also embodies the Palio’s spirit. Interestingly, the blessing always end with the priest urging the horse to “come back as a winner”.
The Sienese wait for the Palio all year long, by bonding more and more with each other thanks to the events that the contrada organises. This is also the Palio’s spirit.
Then comes the day: the horses’ hooves hit the ground in Palazzo Pubblico’s hall. Before the secret order of entry is revealed, and unreal silence descends on the Piazza del Campo. Then, the envelope containing the order is handed to the Mossiere (the starter).
The race is quickly over: it takes about 2 minutes for the horses to circle Piazza del Campo three times, but anything can happen during this unpredictable and tense moment.
It’s hard to put into words what the “wise foolishness” of the Palio is: you’ve got to be there. The famous jockey known as Tripolino summarised this in a nutshell, by saying:
“The Palio has left a smiled-shaped cut in my soul”
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