Il Palio takes place in the center of Siena, in the heart of Tuscany, on two separate dates in July and August each year.
For 2 days a year, the Palio di Siena, or Il Palio as it’s more commonly known, takes over the city of Siena with its epic horse race. While it is known more as a sporting event, its origins are deeply religious. The Palio di Provenzano race on July 2 s held in honor of the Madonna of Provenzano, while the Palio dell’Assunto, on August 16th, honors the Assumption, or Ascension of Mary into Heaven. Held in Siena’s main square; the Piazza del Campo, the race pits local Italian neighborhoods (Contrade) with centuries-old rivalries against one another. Needless to say the race is fiercely competitive and is often a violent affair. It is not uncommon to see over half the riders buckled off their horses, Il Palio makes the tiff between the Montagues and Capulets (Romeo & Juliet) look like tiddlywinks.
The event itself is a cacophony of colors. Locals adorn their Contrade’s colors pride and wave their flag with fervor. The pomp and circumstance leading up to the race only builds to the excitement of the race. Official festivities kick off three days prior to the Palio, which includes the horse selection and blessing of the horses, trial runs, ceremonial banquets, betting, speculation, and late-night celebrations.
Il Palio is a distinctly unique festival that must be experienced. It also doesn’t hurt that it is located in Siena where there is no shortage of things to see, eat, drink and do.