The Palio is a horse race taking place in Siena twice a year during the summer (July and August) in the beautiful central square, Piazza del Campo.
Considered the most important event in town, the Palio involves the whole city and the different “contrade” – that is how the areas into which Siena is divided are called – that passionately compete against each other.
The origins of the Palio can be found in a distant past and first races already took place in the 6th century. The original 59 contrade do not exist anymore, only 17 remain, 10 of which take part in in the historical pageant and in the race.
The contrade are named after different animals: Eagle, Snail, Wave, Panther, Forest, Tortoise, Owl, Unicorn, Shell, Tower, Ram, Caterpillar, Dragon, Giraffe, Porcupine, She-Wolf, Goose and each Contrada has its own unique emblem, flag and colors representing the district of the city.
Every Sienese is passionately involved and participate to the life of the Contrada and to the organization the Palio throughout the entire year; therefore, it is much more than just an event: it represents the strong sense of belonging, a true way of life and it is all about pride, civic identity and often somewhat harsh rivalries.
It’s not easy to explain in detail the complexity of the Palio and the numerous rules set by the Contrade for the race, but if you get the chance to assist to this amazing celebration we guarantee you will never forget the experience.
The event actually takes place over 4 days, the race being on the fourth day when the city is in a crazy, full turmoil. The actual race lasts only one and a half minute, and all of Siena lives for those never-ending 90 seconds!
It is possible to attend the event for free but the Piazza gets crowded starting from the first hours in the morning, so you have to make sure you arrive on time to find a spot. (Those are not indicated days to visit Siena with calm if you are on a tour by the way). It is also possible to watch the Palio from the bleachers and the balconies that face the Piazza but tickets must be booked ahead of time and prices vary.