The Palio: The Pageant (and Blessing) before the Race

La Piazza del Campo
La Piazza del Campo

The Palio: Getting Ready

Well, I did make it to the Palio,  To do it, I traveled to Siena three times in four days.  

The Siena Palio is the most well know Palio.  Many other Italian cities have their own Palio, but the Siena Palio is the most famous and is broadcast live from Italy throughout the world.

Siena is a beautiful and impressive Medieval City.  Its history is linked to the origin story of Rome. Rome was founded by twin brothers Romulus and Remus.  Romulus killed Remus.  The twin sons of Remus: Senius and Aschius subsequently fled Rome.  Senius founded Siena and Aschius founded nearby town Asciano.

The Palio is not just a weekend event, it is a yearlong  commitment involving participation by all in the city to make the 90 seconds of racing  a possibility twice a year.

Early in the history of Siena, the city was divided into many Contrade, or neighborhoods. In the 1800 this was contracted to just the 17 Contrade that are recognized now.  Each has taken on its own branding (if you will)  There is a flag for each of an interesting design, each has a representative from the animal kingdom and a color scheme as well.  From early in the history of Siena, military was assigned into each neighborhood for the welfare and safety of the community.  The contrade units were proud and protective of their community and became over time very competitive with the other Contrade as well.

Siena grew, as it became an important city in its area,  it had to choose a Saint to which it would align itself. All the other saints had been taken at that point, save one, the Virgin Mary.  Siena was the first city to claim the Virgin Mary as it’s patron saint. There are two yearly Holy Days associated with Mary, the first on July 2 The Feast of the Visitation and August 15, The Assumption of Mary.

View of the Duomo of Siena

Originally, the Palio was observed only once a year, but in the 1800’s the race began to be held twice a year.

Early Sienese celebrations of the Virgin Mary were observed with Bull Fights,  However this was eventually considered inhumane and the practice was stopped.  Races were instituted the celebrate, bull races and then donkey races, however neither caught on. Finally in the 1644 the horse race was adopted and has been the practice ever since.

Membership in a Contrada is by birth.  A Sienese baby two baptisms, the first at the church, the second is at the Contrada center where there is a fountain.  Marriages can be with someone from another Contrada, but they must separate for the few days prior to the Palio.  Children are automatically included in their fathers Contrada.

I was able to get a ticket for a balcony overlooking the race.  But because of the crowds on the day of the race, it was better for me to pick it up in advance, so I went up on Friday.

The narrow streets become crowded with tourists, they arrive several days in advance to observe the pageantry in advance of the race..  There are many shops along the way for traditional tourist retail therapy.

After I picked up my ticket Friday afternoon, I decided to look around since there would be too many people on race day.  Soon I heard the sound of a beating drum.  I followed it to the Campo.  A drummer entered drumming the Palio beat followed by two flag bearers in Medieval costumes accompanied by others from the contrada committee. Soon another  drummer and Flags from another contrada joined from another side street. I thought it had ended and stepped up a side street on the other side of the Campo.  Soon came the sound of another drummer and flags. Then more and more, one after another.  There are 17 contrade, and each has their part. See the Civetta Contrada drum and flags pass by here. The drummer plays the Stamburata and is followed by the Sbandierata flag waving ceremony:

Finally, it seemed that all the contrade had made their way into the Campo. I decided to head for the Duomo, the main church in Siena and dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  I was below the church, literally many steps below the plaza level when the campanile began to sound.  I thought the bells would ring for their cycle and then stop, however after one cycle, they immediately began again, and then another cycle.  What was this for?  I noticed much excitement in the people climbing the stairs, so I followed up. 

The Contrade drummers and flags were marching to the Duomo for a blessing. A throng filled the square to watch the Contrade march into the Church.  At this point, the entire community of each contrade had joined the parade, especially the children, some who had the priveledge to carry a case bearing their Holy (devotional) Candle some 3 feet in length. All wore the Fazzoletto with their contrada colors and design.

Fazzoletto do Torre The Fazzoletto of Torre Contrade
Fazzoletto di Torre
The Fazzoletto of Torre Contrade

The campanile continued to ring continuously, the drummers were drumming and the flags were waved in time as they proceeded up a narrow street to enter the plaza and into the church. Watch as the Contrade Alfiere (flag wavers) follow the drummer in the procession to the church:

The air was full of sound,  the Flags and  Drums and Bells were mesmerizing, the moment will always be memorable. Wonderful moment of unexpected surprise and discovery!


An American Cowboy in … Florence?

One of these guys has already been in Italy, can you guess which one?

One of these guys has already traveled to Italy
One of these guys has already traveled to Italy

Buffalo Bill Cody rode for the Pony Express at the age of 14.  He fought for the Union during the Civil War and served in the Army during the Indian Wars. He received the Medal of Honor in 1872.

Buffalo Bill performed in shows displaying western and cowboy themes. He founded Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in 1883.  He toured around the United States and then to Europe beginning in 1887.

The Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody Wyoming is a first class museum.  Last summer I visited and noticed that he had toured throughout Europe, including Italy.  There was a great interest in Europe for all things about Cowboys, Indians and the American West.

Courtesy of the Marketing Department: In Italian, La Rana means Frog.  A Bullfrog would be La Rana Toro.  Advertising bill for the Wild West.
Courtesy of the Marketing Department: In Italian, La Rana means Frog. A Bullfrog would be La Rana Toro. Advertising bill for the Wild West.

William Fredrick Cody included all the elements of the American AnnieWest.  Cowboys on horses, cattle, and Indians.

Cody was ahead of his time in many ways,  He featured Annie Oakley in the show.  He also included Indians in as well.  He insisted that they bring their families and live as they did back home in order to show the Europeans that they were people with families and their own way of life.

Buffalo Bill's Wild West traveled throughout Europe beginning in 1887.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West traveled throughout Europe beginning in 1887.

Buffalo Bill was one of the founders of Cody, Wyoming which was named for him.  The area was just to the west of the new Yellowstone National Park.  He believed that the area would grow. He was involved in developing hydroelectric power and irrigation for agriculture.

Preparandosi: Getting Ready

This beautiful picture was probably taken from Piazzale Michelangelo, Florence, Italy.  The question might be: How do I get there to take my own picture?  The answer is a long one,  and in some ways personal, a search to appreciate and understand this world in which we live.

Why Florence?   Florence was the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, a new beginning for Western Europe. So much that happened there has led to the rich civilisation that we enjoy today.

The excitement of anticipation is rising, and so too, the anxiety of all the things that could go wrong along the way.  I have studied Italian for the last two years, and despite the best efforts of our amazing teacher Josefina and supportive classmates,  I can barely stammer Buon Giorno with nothing to say after that. In the first year of Italian Class Josefina said that we would be ready to go to Italy after 2 years of study.  I wonder now if that meant it would take 2 years to save for the trip (thankfully, the Euro has dropped significantly in the last year and makes the trip much more affordable).  I can now safely recognise many Italian words and appreciate that there many more tenses in Italian than English.  I am so grateful that so many speak English in the tourist areas.

Ponte Vecchio and the Arno  River
Ponte Vecchio and the Arno River