Twice every year, Siena (Italy) lives and breathes the Palio
. If you do not know what this Palio is, with roots in medieval times
, look here or on other websites devoted to the race's history
, its peculiar rules
and other aspects : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palio_di_Siena
But the Palio of Siena is so much more than just a 90 second bareback horse race
on a magnificent medieval square (Piazza del Campo) in one of Tuscany’s most beautiful cities. The Palio race is run between the quarters of the city ("contrade"
To the Senesi
, they are like extended but close-knit families, involving young and old in social activities. In these contrade
, the build-up towards the race lasts all year. Much is at stake. Emotions flow freely.
The last week before each Palio is a strictly organized, intense succession of rituals and citywide festivities
, including lottery (!) distribution of the horses, the hiring of mercenary jockeys ("fantini"
in plural) and several trial races called "prove".
A number of rituals involve the drapellone
(the unique silk banner, always produced by a famous artist, that is awarded to the victorious contrada
). Every contrada
has its own proud museum
for the previously won drappelloni
and other Palio paraphernalia.
During that week, the contrade
are alive with open air dinner
s and many intimate moments
: the capitano
and his team discussing race strategy; alfieri
practicing their show, etc.
On race day, la Messa dei fantini
takes place on the Piazza, followed by the final prova. Contrade
members of all ages get dressed for the corteo storico
(a big historic pageant that precedes the race). Every horse and rider is blessed in the contrada
And then it is time for the comparse
(contrada companies-at-arms) to roam the city to gather for the corteo storico that starts at the Duomo. The actual race is followed by everyone, in the Piazza or on any screen throughout the city, with national TV broadcasting.
When a rider (or indeed: even just a horse...) is victorious, jubilant celebration
erupts for the victor. The winners descend first on Provenzano church. Later, the wine flows all night long in the victorious contrada, where the bells will not stop chiming until morning.
End June and early July of this year, I had the honour and privilege to enjoy the hospitality of the Imperiale Contrada della Giraffa.
I was allowed to photograph their activities as documentary photographer.
Apart from Giraffa territory and the Piazza, I also visited a few other contrade
, and got a taste of the victory celebrations of Lupa contrada
This documentary series aims to present a comprehensive and most often very up-close “fly-on-the-wall” picture of the whole Palio week
(except the preparation of Piazza del Campo which happened before my arrival
Later, a second series will focus on the people of Giraffa (“Gente della Giraffa
”) and their experiences in Palio week. This will be in vibrant colour
. Maybe a third series will follow, offering a more extensive and colour look at just to the equestrian action.