Sunday, January 25, 2009

Shaken Not Stirred

For anyone who has seen the opening sequences of the latest James Bond film, “Quantum of Solace” you will have witnessed the exciting spectacle of the “Palio di Siena”. The race is run twice a year in the Tuscan town, on the 2nd July and 16th August and has been a feature of the “Piazza del Campo” since it was first organised in 1656 to honour the apparition of the Virgin Mary nearby.

Siena is divided into sixteen Contradas or districts that all compete for the prized Palio, a beautifully designed banner awarded to the winner. Each Contradas has its own coat of arms, emblems, colours, patron saint and supporters; which include the she wolf, porcupine, the forest, the snail and the tortoise and attracts passionate followers.

The event itself consists of four days of celebrations, medieval costumed precessions and displays, culminating in flag throwing exhibitions, parade of the jockeys, a cavalry charge by the mounted Carabinieri and then the race itself. Siena ’s piazza is turned into a racecourse, the floor covered with earth, protective bleachers erected and stands put up for the 33,000 spectators. Many more are crammed into every available window, roof and balcony to witness the event.

The race is a chaotic; bare-backed three laps of the course with the winner taking all, surprisingly enough it is not the last person to cross the line who is considered the looser but the second placed rider. Visitors will get to see a celebration that stretches back centuries and in these modern days of corporate sponsorship and big business the Palio di Siena still maintains a medieval feel at its core.

If you are coming over to Italy for the Palio, why not check out our medieval monastry offering excellent accommodation and within easy reach of Siena.

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