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75 seconds in Siena

creato da Italiaplease ultima modifica 20/06/2008 15:14

Dramatic, exhilarating, spectacular and riotous. Seeing is believing at Siena's Palio - the most famous bareback horserace in the world - but don't look away, or it could all be over...

Palio di SienaThe city of Siena awakes with a feverish mixture of excitement and dread on the mornings of July 2nd and August 16th. As thousands of curious tourists pour into the city the Sienese prepare to relive yet another chapter of their glorious past in one of the world's most spectacular and rambunctious horseraces - the Palio.
On the surface the Palio is but a 75-second race around Siena's main square, during which 10 of the city's 17 contrade, or districts, compete for the titular piece of cloth. However, if you take a look at the rituals and traditions that make up this unique race, you will begin to understand the magic that surrounds it.

In order to get the real flavour of the Palio go to Siena for the period before the race. With a bit of luck you'll catch the traditional Blessing of the Horses which takes place in churches in each district on the afternoon of the race (it's a serious business so no talking or flash photography throughout). You'll also be able to watch the horses and jockeys try out the track and be part of the general hustle-bustle that marks the build-up to the great event.
The wisest will now head for an air-conditioned bar outside the centre and sit watching the race live on TV. But most of us are not wise and will want to experience the Palio first-hand. Here is our advice: leave the children at home, arm yourselves with water and a sun hat and prepare to spend hours, crushed together like sardines in a tin, under the sweltering Tuscan sun. First into the square are the comparse, groups of young men in traditional dress representing each district, next are the standard-bearers, then the chariot holding the Palio (a banner), then silence falls as the horses and jockeys make their way up to the ropes. As with all races, the winner takes it all and everyone else, from the second across line down, is the loser. And to win the Palio, it seems, the contrade will stop at nothing: secret pacts, rigged betting, pushing, shoving and whipping. Fans and jockeys take the rules into their hands in the 75-second struggle for supremacy which gives the winning district bragging rights for the year to come.
Crazy? Maybe. But who are we to judge?
In a second it's all over. The Campo is a-swim with people regaling the victorious horse and jockey. Winning flags adorn the houses and streets and. The party is just beginning. What do you mean you missed it all? Don't worry, leave the square as calmly as possible and slip into a quiet backstreet bar. The local TV stations will be showing replays of the race all night long. And don't be surprised if you hear the locals planning tactics for the next incredible instalment of the Palio.

Here's some useful advice:

- Don't go near the horses either before or after the race;
- Leave the Sienese well alone in the period around the race and whatever you do don't try to cheer up despondent fans;
- If you are asked to move aside or make way for locals, do as you are told.

The 17 contrade
You can find out more about the contrade by clicking here. (Look for the images of the flags.)

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