The Palio, taking place on July 2 and August 16 every year, is the most exciting and important event on the Sienese calendar, and attracts visitors from all around the world.
The origins of the Palio date back to medieval times, when Siena’s central square, the Piazza del Campo, was used for public games, such as jousting, and then later in the 16thcentury, for bull fights. When the Grand Duke of Tuscany outlawed bull fighting in the late 16th century, the areas of the city (contrade) took to organizing races, initially with buffalo or donkeys, which later developed into the present-day horse races around the Piazza del Campo.
During the build-up to the Palio, the seventeen different contrade, traditionally challenge each other to the the horse race, amid much distrust and rivalry. Only ten horses are chosen, so the seven contrade which did not take part in the preceding Palio, are included in the next one, with the other three being chosen by draw. Which horses will be chosen to race is based on advice by private horse dealers and owners, other Palio races in Italy, veterinary examination, and then a lottery to determine which horse will run for each contrada. In such a competitive atmosphere, there are often accusations of cheating and bribery, and even doping. Trial races are run, the first on the evening of the horse selection, and again on the morning before the Palio. The August Palio started out as an extension of the celebrations of the July Palio and was originally organized and funded by July’s winning contrada. After 1802, however, organisation and funding the August race became a central responsibility of the city, which removed annual uncertainty over whether or not an August Palio would run.
On the day of the Palio face, the city is buzzing with anticipation. The event takes over the entire day, beginning with a mass for the jockeys in the chapel next to the Palazzo Comunale. Then at 10.30 a.m. the names of the jockeys are confirmed, and given silk shirts in the colour of their contrada. They cannot be substituted after this point. Next, at around 3 p.m. there is a large parade through the city, in historical costume, including drummers and flag throwers who demonstrate their arts using the colourful banners of their respective contrade. The parade reaches the Piazza del Campo between 5 – 7 p.m. with a firework signalling the arrival of the horses into piazza. As the jockeys come out, each one receives a whip which they can use to prod their own horse or that of their opponents in the race.
In the actual race, the jockeys ride bareback, circling the Piazza del Campo three times, which takes around 90 seconds. There is, inevitably, a quite a high level of danger involved, with the sharp bends around a dirt track, in a relatively small space, with riders often falling and the horse finishing on its own. The Palio in fact is won by the first horse to cross the finish line, whether or not there is still a jockey intact!
Situated just around the corner from the Piazza del Campo, in the heart of the pedestrian zone, I Rozzi an absolutely charming, bright and elegantly appointed apartment on the second floor of a protected historic building dating from 1500. From the window in the living/dining room there are views over the Piazza del Campo to the medieval bell tower of the Palazzo Publicco opposite.
The apartment can be accessed by either a wide stone staircase or a lift. The rooms have parquet floors, exposed wood beamed ceilings and are comfortably and tastefully furnished throughout.