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The Palio di Siena, a unique and spectacular event

Here are some interesting facts about the most important historical eventi in Italy

For a tourist, the Palio di Siena is nothing more than an exciting, very intense and folkloristic horse rac e held in Piazza del Campo twice a year: July 2nd and August 16th. For a Sienese, however, it is much more. The Palio, in its authentic meaning, can not be understood unless one understands the division in "contrade" (districts) that characterizes Siena. The contrade are a sort of fourth dimension, 17 small cities in the city, organized with a firm arrangement and rules and customs that go back in time, but that keep their strength intact. The contrada is continually full of life: people meet, chat, exchange passions and ideas, learn to play instruments.
 Among the contradaioli (people of the contrada) there is a lot of confidence because you feel part of the same reality made of village festivals, concerts and outdoor dinners. Each contrada is like a small state, with its laws and its governing bodies. Each contrada has its own church and its own museum where the material for the Palio is kept: costumes, banners, drapes, flags.

 Siena (SI)
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The Palio di Siena is practically horse race unique in its kind where the historic districts compete and challenge each other. The race includes 3 laps around the track that surrounds the square, which is covered with a thick layer of tufa dust, so that the horses can run more easily. Only one is the district that comes out victorious, after a race that takes place in a wild way and often without reserves of low blows. In the pure spirit of the Contrada, the party that follows is on the one hand a way of celebrating the victory and on the other a way to mock the adversaries. Arriving second is considered worse than arriving last.

 Siena (SI)
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How is run the Palio di Siena

Of the 17 contrade that make up Siena, only 10 participate in each Palio. A mechanism that involves drawing lots and mandatory presence forms the battery of 10 contrade that will participate. The Horses with which the jockeys will run are drawn by lot and associated to the various districts. On the day of the Palio (July 2nd or August 15th) a shot of firecrackers announces the exit of the horses. Each jockey is given a crop, made from cured distended bull peins, that they use to incite the horse during the race but also to hinder the opponents. The most exciting moment, which can last for many minutes, is the "mossa", that is the approach to the point where horses and jockeys must line up. The order of entry of the horses between the ropes is secret until the last moment, when it is delivered in a sealed envelope to the "mossiere" (unquestionable judge of the validity of the departure) that is positioned on the "verrocchio" (a small stage). Nine out of ten horses enter between the ropes according to the order of entry, while the draw "rincorsa" remains outside and can determine the moment of the actual start of the race. The mossiere must only watch the regularity of the deployment, while it is the "chasing" horse to start the Palio entering the gallop between the ropes. In the usually long phases in which the horses are arranged, the traditional activity of "negotiation" between jockeys (called "partying") takes place, with some contrada looking for alliances against common enemies. A burst of firecracker starts the race, just as a blast can stop it. The horses must complete three laps for a total of 1000 meters, with or without a jockey. The Palio, in fact, also wins with the horse "scosso" that is without a jockey.

 Siena (SI)
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The Drappellone (banner)

The "drappellone", also called "cencio", is nothing more than the prize (palio) materially conquered by the winning horse. Originally in silk lined with vaio, it seems that the palio was painted for the first time in 1657. Today the silk of the Palio of Provenzano is painted by a Sienese master, while that of t he Palio of the Assumption (16th August) is entrusted to international artists, such as Renato Guttuso or Fernando Botero. The oldest "drappellone" that has come down to us dates back to 1719 and is preserved in the museum of the Contrada dell'Aquila.

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The History of the Palio

The Palio di Siena is a historic competition of clear medieval style, which takes place twice a year and attracts thousands of tourists from all over the world. Its uniqueness and its spectacular nature make this event the most important historical event in Italy. The Palio has been running continuously for more than 100 years, so we can not speak of a historical re-enactment, but of a real popular event, felt as never before by the participants and by the public that follows it. It was established as a Sienese festival only at the beginning of the seventeenth century as an event organized by the Contrade participating in it, later around 1656 it was organized directly by the Municipality. At the beginning only the Palio di Provenzano (July 2) was organized, and the winning Contrada could organize the Palio of August 16th (of the Assumption) at its discretion. So it happened that only the Palio of July was raced. Only since 1802 also the Palio of the Assumption was organized by the Municipality.

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