One of the first things that comes to mind when one thinks of Siena is the Palio.
The Palio horse race is run twice every year, on July 2nd and August 16th, around the Piazza del Campo.
All of Siena comes out to participate and celebrate on those days, hoping for a victory to show off and rub at their “enemy” contrada for the rest of the year. There are many tourists that come to see and experience the atmosphere in Siena on the days of the Palio, and visitors are welcome. But one of the most important things to remember about the Palio is that it is NOT a tourist event and that it is not a show put on for outsiders. It is an event around which Sienese build their entire life around, year in and year out. A Siena citizen is born into and baptized into a Contrada and they are members for life! There are rival Contradas as well as alliances between Contradas (something we will try to explain further in an upcoming article) and these influence your life – if you’re a citizen of Siena, of course!
If you only see Siena on one of the days of the Palio or in the days before the races, you only glimpse a small part of what the Palio means to Siena. It is in this context that we must place the importance of having all 17 Contrade agree to open up their shared spaces – the Contrada chapels where their drawn horse is blessed, the museums where the won “drapellone” (banners) are hung and the shared communal spaces they use as meeting space – to the general public as part of InContrada. Starting December 6th and continuing on through January 25, 2015, you can step into each of the 17 Contrade as they open up their doors and invite us, outsiders, to go in, peek and try to comprehend what the Palio and Contrada life means to them.
With InContrada, you will have a very knowledgeable guide from Siena (who has ties to the Contradas you’ll visit) lead you from the Palazzo Pubblico where you’ll get an introduction to the Palio and what it represents and how the city prepares for it. You will gain exclusive access to the warehouses below city hall in the Magazzini del Sale and Sala dei Costumi where the historical parade costumes are kept during the year. In these areas, you will be able to admire the beautifully rich costumes designed and created for these 2 days of the year, all costing thousands of hours in production (and funds) to create.
From there, exiting on Piazza del Mercato, visitors will be led to a different Contrada on each of the 17 days on which the tours are offered. You will receive explanations of the symbols along the streets, anecdotes about the contrada fountains and works of art kept within the museums. Truly a unique and exciting opportunity to step in and learn more about these districts within Siena that compete against each and finally face off on the days of the Palio.
Here’s the calendar below so that you can decide when to visit Siena!
6 – Tartuca – the Tortoise
7 – Giraffa – the Giraffe
8 – Bruco – the Caterpillar
13 – Lupa – the She-Wolf
14 – Leocorno – the Unicorn
20 – Aquila – the Eagle
21 – Chiocciola – the Snail
27 – Istrice – the Crested Porcupine
28 – Oca – the Goose
3 – Selva – the Forest
4 – Torre – the Tower
10 – Drago – the Dragon
11 – Nicchio – the Seashell
17 – Valdimontone – the Valley of the Ram
18 – Civetta – the Small Owl
24 – Onda – the Wave
25 – Pantera – the Panther
Tours start at 3pm on Saturdays, and at 10am on Sundays and will last around 3 hours.
You will be able to book up until 1:30pm on Saturdays by calling 0577 286300 (Monday-Friday 9am-5pm, Saturdays 9-1:30pm) or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cost is 18 euros, while children under 6 are free. Groups of at least 30 people will receive a discount, as will residents of Siena. Meeting point is the internal Podestà courtyard within Palazzo Pubblico.
Just to give another idea about the way of thinking for a Sienese:
The worst way to lose a Palio is to actually have your “enemy” win, and the second worse way to lose is to actually come in second place. This is a very interesting and quite unique opportunity to go into the heart of the contrada this winter in December and January, as it is the first time ever that the Contrada open their doors in this way.
We had a preview of what there is to see a few days ago and really enjoyed seeing the marvelous costumes in Palazzo Pubblico and then stepping inside the Aquila and Tartuca contrada museums and chapels. It was great to see how different the museums are, while seeing the pride in which the won banners are displayed. We highly recommend you book your tour today if you know you’ll be here this Christmas season and in January, it truly is rare opportunity that might not ever be repeated again!
If you’re interested in learning more about the Palio, read this article on what happens on the day of the Palio races here.
About Lourdes Flores
An American living in Florence for over 10 years, Lourdes continues to explore and discover new places in Tuscany with the eyes of a tourist but with the experience of living in Italy. She shares her experiences on this blog and website, particularly offering lots of travel planning help on the Forum!