If you have the chance to walk the Via Francigena in Tuscany in early July or mid-August, you might be able to witness the Palio di Siena. Palio di Siena, commonly known as ‘Il Palio’, is one of Italy’s most spectacular horse racing events and has been taking place in Siena’s stunning UNESCO-listed historic centre since 1656.
This unique horse race is held twice a year: 2nd July to honour the Madonna of Provenzano and 16th August to honour the Virgin Mary’s Assumption. The Palio is a pretty complex event that has gained additional rules over the centuries, as well as traditions and customs. Piazza del Campo, the iconic main square in Siena, gets transformed for this captivating event and the ring around the square is covered with tuff (red) clay.
Il Palio festival actually stretches over four days, the horse race taking place on the fourth day. Although the race itself is quite short, the medieval streets of Siena come alive with music, singing, parades and celebrations a week before the horses even make an appearance; so this is a very special time to visit Siena, even during the build up to the event.
Ten horses and bareback riders represent ten of the 17 city districts or ‘Contradas’, each one of them wearing their own colours, emblems and flags. This colourful horse race has its origins in medieval times, when the town’s central ‘piazza’ was the chosen location for public games. More than just a horse race, Il Palio is pure passion and excitement, and captures the rivalry between the city’s districts.
Siena is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located on section 14 of the Via Francigena from Lucca to Siena. On this stretch of the Via Francigena trail, walkers and cyclists travel through the picture-perfect Tuscan countryside, stopping in beautiful medieval villages along the way.
*Please bear in mind, reservations during special events such as Il Palio need to be organised well in advance, as availability can be limited.
For additional information about this section or to book your Via Francigena trip, contact the FrancigenaWays.com travel specialists.