Andiamo il Palio!

I remember the first time I went to the famous Palio horse race in Siena in Italy. I must have been about six years old, and was on holiday with my mum, my stepdad and my best friend and her family. Siena itself is a lovely place to behold, but when this race comes to town – as it does twice every year, once in July and once in August – it’s something else. Thousands of people line the streets, many waving flags in support of their horse –each of which represents a parish of Siena. The supporters walk through the city towards the central square (in reality more of a concave ‘shell’), filling it up to capacity before the race begins – which it does amidst much pomp and ceremony.

The race is over in seconds – it really is a blink and you’ll miss it affair – but whilst it’s a fantastic spectacle the thing that’s always captivated me has not been the race itself but the flurry of activity afterwards. For if you look up at the balconies – which pre-race are lined with mafia-types in suits and dark glasses – you’ll see them suddenly empty, as they go in search of the jockeys that have failed to bring their money in. Apparently some years the jockeys have been pulled off their horses and even killed (so the legend goes) after losing the race, which is why you’d be hard pressed to find any of the losers in the vicinity once the final whistle is blown.

It’s been a few years since my last trip to Siena, so I’m more than a little excited about attending this year’s first Palio on Tuesday. Dark glasses at the ready…

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