Il Palio Di Sienna
Yesterday, we toured Sienna, a truly beautiful Medieval City. We saw a practice run for the Palio, a horse race run bareback in the middle of the city square. This clamshell-shaped square also has some serious elevation changes. There are 17 different Contradas, or neighborhoods, in Sienna – 10 of which get to participate in a given race. Each Contrada is named after an animal (Wave w/Dolphin, Elephant, Owl, etc.) and the race is a really big event in the area – it is run twice a year.
Yesterday we watched a practice race right from the piazza (infield)! After a number of false starts (there is no starting gate, just a line up order and a rope) the horses sort of ran/jogged around the square three times. Afterwards, many men from each Contrada walked the track behind their horse and sang songs which loosely translated to “we are the best, we are going to win.” Sounded really cool in Italian.
Ok, fast forward to today. Having each (we are 10 Greeens here) chosen one of the 10 Contradas to root for and wearing traditional scarves representing each, we cooked dinner at our place and settled in to watch the actual race on Italian television, Channel 1. Like yesterday, it took about 30 minutes for the horses to get settled, the tension mounting with each non-start. The crowd in the square, at least 5 times the number of people as yesterday, was getting antsy.
Suddenly, the race started and things got out of hand quickly. On the first downhill 90 degree turn (not kidding) the first jockey flew off of his horse. Not the one I was backing, so okay by me. Over the course of the next two laps, two more riders were thrown. Then things took a turn for the worse. The leading horse (Goose) was about to be passed by the She-Wolf horse. Next, the leading jockey reached back with his switch and struck the She-Wolf horse on the head at least three times, causing the horse to buckle and fall. Goose won the race, crowd goes crazy. No word about the riders or the fallen horse, not even commentary on the race or a replay. Game over.
Our entire family looked at each other and realized that we really had had no idea what we had connected ourselves to until it was over. Not that it is terrible, but certainly eye-opening.
Toby took this picture of the starting line from the TV: