If you’re considering seeing the Palio in Siena (and you should) you must go for a few days before, and at least one day after. It is an extraordinary event that has its feet firmly placed in the Middle Ages, and the build up and after math of the race are what it’s all about. In fact, the race itself is actually a bit of an anti-climax. The race lasts probably two minutes – no more – and takes place in such a frenzy of excitement it’s practically impossible to tell what’s going on, unless something happens directly in front of you.
The Palio is actually about tradition, pageantry, corruption and thuggery. But all of those things make for an amazing experience. Jules got really good seats for us – the terraces is where it’s at, but don’t be surprised if your seat is invaded by a pushy Italian! The Palio is not FOR tourists. They put up with you being there, but there’s no Walt Disney going on here – this is REAL. This would all happen whether the tourists came or not. It is visceral, passionate and very, very Italian!
Jules also got us seats at one of the Contrada dinners the evening before– this I would describe as essential if you want to get a real flavour of the Palio atmosphere. The pageantry is everywhere, all over the old city, and you must use your time before the race to get around all the contradas to see which is which and how they differ. After the race, the flags of all but the winning contrada come down within just a few hours.
See the stables under the clock tower – and be in the Campo at least once every evening, you will see many wonderful things! Then there’s the drums, the flags, the roaring oxen, the colour, the noise – an incredible time WILL be had! ….. But get stuck in – because they haven’t arranged it for you, and they won’t wait for you to join them! See blog post for photos.