Il Palio, Siena, Italy
Piazza del Campo (aka Il Campo), Siena, Italy.
What is Il Palio di Siena?
This is Italy’s best known horse race, held twice each year on July 2 and August 16 in the city’s Piazza del Campo square, pictured above on a normal summer’s day and below on race day.
Ten horses and their colourfully clad riders represent ten of Siena’s 17 districts, but before the race – which is just three brutal laps – there is a lengthy ceremony and procession celebrating Siena’s medieval past.
The same piazza in Siena on the Palio race day.
Comparisons between Il Palio and Canada’s Calgary Stampede
It’s an F2 experience (fun with frustration) living in the Thirst World (a developed country with many undeveloped characteristics).
Italy is First World and very attractive in many respects – culture in general, food and drink, autostrade, design, friendliness of the people, history, geographic beauty and so on – but Third World in many areas that are essential to life in the 21st century – among others the political system, judicial system, financial system, and communications systems without touching on the mule track roads away from the central highways and restrictive retail practices which require careful planning for shopping expeditions. It’s a bi-polar life in Italy for travellers and foreign residents.
Rodeos and chuck-wagon races are not at all safe but perhaps not quite as ferocious as Il Palio.
An interesting contrast between the two worlds and their respective organisation, for example, is Il Palio in Italy’s Siena vs. Canada’s Calgary Stampede.
Both are annual events in which the respective towns become intimately involved (in Siena the main square is taken over for Il Palio, in Calgary the whole city dresses up for the rodeo and the main streets are closed for the kick-off parade) with a long tradition (the first going back centuries, the second about a hundred years), a festive atmosphere, intense rivalry and bare back riders on horses who may fall off (four out of ten at Il Palio this year). Both have television coverage and a dedicated following and considerable skills.
Siena’s Il Palio is an amateur event steeped in history and local factionalism, brief in execution but long in build up, uncomfortable and dangerous for (some) spectators, hazardous for all riders and deeply dissatisfying for all but the winner (there are no runner up prizes), and typically European in organisation and purpose (regional pride).
The Calgary Stampede is a modern day version of a traditional past-time with a multiplicity of attractions, activities, and participants from many countries, customised for a mobile world seeking instant gratification and motivated by moolah, comfort and convenience. All arrangements are unabashedly north American, carefully choreographed and run with Swiss-like precision.
Local Italian dignitaries and the heads of the village teams take place of honour at Il Palio, Canadian corporate entertainment suites have pole position at the Stampede.
Also by Daniel Nash Secondo: Italian Cuisine
Siena Il Palio Photos © Ikuko Koga, Mubadda Rohanna.
Calgary Photos © Jennifer Oehler, Steve Estvanik.