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Count down to the Palio July 2: A note from someone who has attended many times…

palio siena july

A note from our blogmaster who’s attended the Palio of Siena many times…

Back when I was in graduate school, I spent a lot of time in Montalcino and Siena and had the great fortune to attend the Palio numerous times with a family that belonged to the contrada (ward or neighborhood) of the Chiocciola, the snail.

I’ll never forget what the father used to tell me each time we went for one of the pre-race dinners or parades.

“Mussolini once tried to move the Palio to Rome but it didn’t work. He discovered that you can’t have the Palio without the Sienese!

In other words, it is the people of Siena (and not the race itself) that really makes this event such a special and unique slice of life in Italy.

I’ve seen people cry after the race when their ward didn’t win. And I don’t just mean whimper. I mean openly sobbing.

And when they win, the celebration is all-out, all-the-way, and all-night-long, with the best Brunello flowing into everyone’s glasses.

The people of Siena live this race all year round and nothing matters more to them.

Among the more incredible things I saw during my time attending the race and the scores of events that precede it (mostly feasts but also marches and parades), I once attended the blessing of the Chiocciola’s horse in the neighborhood’s church. Yes, they took the horse into the church! Not a pew was empty.

It didn’t happen that time. But they say that if the horse “relives” himself in the church, it’s a good sign. (I’m not sure if that’s scientific fact though!)

And another time, after the race, when a contrada other than the Chiocciola won, I saw a man kiss the horse in the place where the sun doesn’t shine. Well, it shone there that day!

Check out Rick Steves’ excellent post on the Palio.

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