I would like to share with you my latest Italian expedition. I had the luck and pleasure of visiting Siena for the very first time.
For starters Siena is an Italian city in Tuscany, famous for its Palio horse race and its medieval architecture (UNESCO World Heritage site).
But Siena is much, much more than this.
Siena is a city full of tradition and its citizens are proud keepers of their heritage.
The city is not big but its history is humongous, inside its medieval walls the city is divided in 17 contradas (sort of neighbourhood), each with its colors and Mascote: Aquila (eagle), Bruco (caterpillar), Chiocciola (Snail), Civetta (owl), Drago (Dragon), Giraffa (Giraffe), Istrice (Porcupine), Leocorno (Mitological horned Lyon), Lupa (Wolf), Nicchio (Shell), Oca (Goose), Onda (Wave), Pantera (Panter), Selva (Jungle), Tartuca (Turtle), Torre (Tower), Valdimontone (Mountain Goat).
There are many rivalry between the contradas and many are sworn enemies, such rivalry can get physical and many fist fights happen during the days of the Palio.
The Palio race take place two times per year, inside a round circuit built in the main square (Piazza del Campo), the first race happens in July (2nd) and the other one in August (16th), it has its roots in Medieval times and apparently started in the 13th century, but the town hall only started organizing it since the 17th century.
Only ten out of the seventeen contradas can race at a time, thus there’s a draw to choose the lucky ten, the other seven that do not participate are already sure for the next Palio and three will be draw out of Seven.
Also the horses are drawn for each contrada, only the Fantino (the jockey) is a paid professional, but the Palio race obeys to many strange factors that might affect the winner.
The Palio will only start when a chosen contrada (also drawn) will place itself inside the ropes and with this gesture signal the start.
Inside the Palio race there’s no rules, often contradas with poor horses try to affect the enemy contradas and obstruct their horses. Other times there are some beating up during the race between the various Fantino’s (Jockey).
During the year, the various contradas celebrate their Saint and organize a street fest (usually in their square by their church. It is a wonderful way to get to know the Sienese People, their culture, their history. The food and the wine are great.
If you are curious to see a Palio live, be sure to organize yourself with time and to exactly know what you are coming to, as prices go sky high and confusion is great. The main square is big but not huge, and the real aficionados are in the middle (thousands of people standing crushed against each other under a blazing sun), this is the place of the several fanatic supporters of each contrada and where riots might occur. The other excellent opportunity of a good view is the stands that are built to the occasion but places are limited and usually prices are very high.
I recommend you to observe first in the Youtube some races and decide what it would be best.
Siena is of course more than the Palio, the rich history, the culture, the food, the wines and the amazing architecture merits your visit.
The Duomo of Siena (Cathedral) is a masterpiece. Inside this famous iconic place there’s the most beautiful floor ever built by Mankind. The marble floor and its drawings are only visible few days a year to avoid damage, be sure to check when it will be open for visit.
I hope I have managed to arouse your curiosity, and invite to walk in the narrow streets of Siena and walk the very same footsteps of millions of Pilgrims in history.
Enjoy wonderful meat, a good Chianti wine and then the sweet Panforte di Siena.
Chef Gourmet Du Art