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Events Around the Siena Palio

All of the events that make the Palio di Siena more than just a 90 second race

The actual Palio di Siena is only about 90 seconds long – 3 laps around the Campo -so you may ask is it really worth going on a Siena Palio Horse Race Package for just 90 seconds?

Obviously we would say yes, but let us explain why!

The actual race itself is extraordinarily intense and you only need to watch any video of a previous race to see what an extraordinary atmosphere there is. The Palio di Siena is not a race for the tourists, it is a race that the locals passionately and fervently follow, invest in and believe in. You go to experience the electric atmosphere as much as to watch the Siena Palio race.

However to fully appreciate the race you need to understand some of the politics and machinations that is happening behind the scenes during the previous months and ramps up into a frenzy in the last 24 hours.

This is where our local guides come into their own as they take you on a guided introduction to the Siena Palio as they guide you around Siena. They will help you understand the Palio di Siena, and understand that it is more than just a 90 second race.

The guide will help you understand how the Palio di Siena is more than just winning the race. They will help you understand that you would celebrate just as much if your rival came second which is considered the main losing position, as if your Contrada had won.

They will help you understand how secret deals are done, and huge amounts of money pass hands, to encourage jockeys to block rivals of other Contradas and favour their jockey. It is complicated and it is political! 

They will try to take you to a Contrada Museum where you will see displayed past Palios (the unique banners that are created as the prize for the winning Contrada), and previous winning historical costumes. If you belong to a Contrada then you treat it almost as sacred as church and there are “sacred” objects from the Contradas inside the museum.

There are also objects that signify the history of the Contrada or that they are famous for. For example the Wave Museum has Carpentry works in it, as well as items from the Sculptor Giovanni Dupre who was born in the Contrada.

In the run up to the Palio there are 6 trials where the jockey gets used to the horse that has been allocated to the Contrada. The leaders of the Contrada are also assessing the jockey, whom they can change right up to the morning of the Siena Palio.

Your Siena Palio Horse Race Package will include attending one of these trials. We normally recommend you see this from the top of a tower so you can get a great overview and feel for the whole race, before the big event itself where you will be seated much closer to the Siena Palio action.

We are very fortunate that we are also able to organize for you to go to a Contrada dinner as part of your Siena Palio Horse race package the evening before the Siena Palio. These open air dinners take place in each of the Contradas (districts) in Siena that are taking part in the Siena Palio race.

Huge tables, 50 feet long are set up in the main squares which are lit by torches and lanterns and with the Contrada banners hung to create a great atmosphere. Pasta, meat and vegetables are cooked and served by the locals from the district to over 1,500 people in each Contrada!

It is a good luck dinner to wish the jockey and the horse a speedy victory. The heads of the Contrada and jockeys will sit at the main table and there will be speeches, songs and toasts as the key participants of the Palio are honoured by the district. It will be a good humoured and classically Italian evening.

Obviously we cannot guarantee that this Contrada will win the Palio di Siena but our local contact delays choosing which Contrada Dinner to buy before as long as possible in order to try and choose one that has a good chance of winning once he knows more about the jockey and the horse allocation.

So far he has had a good run! We would recommend you then adopt this Contrada to cheer for at the Palio di Siena, and you may wish to consider buying one of the Contrada scarves to show your support. Please note though that we are not able to request any special dietary requirements for the Contrada dinner.

After dinner the Contrada leaders meet to continue their secret deal making in order to help their jockey be favoured or their main rival to be hindered in the race.

On the morning of the Siena Palio the guide will try very hard to get you into a blessing of a horse that is running in the Palio di Siena. We cannot guarantee this, but they have a good track record so far. The horse and the jockey are taken to the main church of each Contrada for this blessing and the parting blessing is “GO and return victorious”! 

The horses then join the historical parade that is weaving its way around the town before entering the Campo. This pageant is made up of over 600 locals dressed in historical costume representing their Contradas. The Carabineri race at full gallop around the track. There are nods to now extinct Contradas who ride with lowered helmets and are led by a groom, and to how the Palio first began which was buffalo and donkey racing.

It is noisy and colourful, there is lots of Contrada flag twirling and drum beating and it builds the atmosphere beautifully for the big event!

This is why the Palio di Siena is not just a 90 second event; it is attending these “money can’t buy” events around it which give you the full Palio di Siena experience.

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