We're off to the palio!
Of all the special things to do in Tuscany and Lazio, attending the palios in Maremma ranks high amongst them. Not just for the sheer thrill of the race or competition of skill, but for all of the medieval pageantry, colour, sights, sounds and smells that fill the village or town in which they are held.
Come across one by chance whilst on holiday and are in for a treat that will leave you with wonderful memories for a long time. But rather than leave it to chance, in this page you will find the annual "palii" calendar for Maremma - wild and undiscovered Tuscany and Lazio - and there are many of them: over thirty every year.
But first, the most famous and probably the only palio in Tuscany that you have probably heard of. The Il Palio di Siena.
The palio horse race in Siena takes place twice a year on the afternoons and evenings of 2 July and 16 August.
The Siena Palio 2017 dates: Sunday 2 July 2017 and 16 August 2017.
The medieval costumed parade starts at around 15:00, and the race at 19:00.
If you are planning on watching it from the Piazza del Campo, expect to be standing for around 5 hours!
But really, each time, it is a whole week of incredible pageant. If you cannot attend on the day, a visit in the days before will still give you an experience of what the whole event is about. In fact, more so.
The Palio isn't just the one day. To truly understand and feel what it is about, you need to stay in Siena for the week running-up to the event.
Because the Siena palio isn't the race. It is life. In Siena. From the moment you are born. Until you die.
Because. On the day the city is packed with so many people that moving about to photograph or see the event is very difficult. We are talking, on average, more than 40,000 locals and 20,000 visitors!
And, unless you have a window view from one of the palazzo's lining Piazza del Campo then, from the piazza you won't get to see very much during the race. Unless you happen to have camped-out for a spot by the barriers. And then it will be a split-second only opportunity. Fighting for lens space with so many others.
But, visit Siena in the days before race day and you can see the selection of the horses and the practice runs. The streets of the three "Terzi" - districts - of the City will be decorated with the flags of each of their "Le Contrade" - neighbourhoods. Seventeen "contrade" in all. A vision to be seen in your lifetime and a photographers dream.
The tension of the preparations will still be in the air, there will still be a lot of people around, but you'll have a whole lot more of a relaxed time.
Find out more. Plus everything you didn't know about the race, but should!
If the thought of such a huge crowd in Siena is too much. And/or you have children with you. You don't have to miss out on the pageantry or passion of a palio in Tuscany. Just head from Siena west, towards the coast, into Maremma. For seven months of palios that will have you cheering and celebrating with the locals.
With another 4 palios within easy reach in the surrounding area around Maremma.
Run along a stunning stretch of the Costa degli Etruschi (the Etruscan Coast) on "Pasquetta", Easter Monday, this is a bareback thoroughbred horse race on soft pale sands.
The palio started in 1995, but was suspended during the construction of San Vicenzo's new marina. This year, 2017, after an absence of 12 years, it has recommenced with even more fierce competition for the silk banner prize than before.
Nine Tuscany towns and cities - Bibbona, campiglia Marittima, Castegnato Carducci, Cecina, Livorno, Piombin, Rosignano Marittima, San Vincenzo and Suvereto - and 32 jockeys compete. Sometimes with horses and jockeys from the Siena palio.
This year, Italian jockey Dino Pes - twice winner of the Palio di Legnanoin Lombardia, wonfor the town of Bibbona, riding
The event starts at 14:30 with a parade and then four heats. The last and deciding race is run at around 18:00.
Photo by kind permission of brumsoroger.
The dates each year may change for some of these events by a day or two - although most, especially those in August are fixed. The celebrations listed for each month are in alphabetical order by town or village name.
Part of the Festa del Cedro - the feast of the race of the cedar barrels - celebrations held in the historic centre of Bibbona each year. At 21:00 there is an evening procession in medieval costume, followed by the race between the different districts of Bibbona to push cedar barrels up the narrow and steep streets of the town.
The days events start at 10:00 in the morning and include live music, art, craft and local product market stalls, village games and "degustazione" - tastings of the speciality dishes of the area.
The 2010 event was the second and last year for the time being of this new palio in Maremma which saw over forty thoroughbred horses and their riders - most of which were from the Palio di Siena and other historic palio horse races in Tuscany - race along the golden sands of the Marina di Grosseto beach with the sparkling blue of the Tyrrhenian sea as the backdrop.
Many Maremma families were down on the beach for this horse racing event - it made for a welcome event in early spring - and this palio looks set to improve and attract even more visitors each year.
Photograph by kind permission of Relisa.
Although not officially called a palio, I have included it here as it is a similar event to the Palio Marinario dell'Argentario event held every August 15th in Porto Santo Stefano.
For more information: www.palioargentario.it
The Palio of the Flags and Territory is a costumed event dating back to the time of the Grand Duke Leopold II of Tuscany and comprises of two palios: medieval flag throwing and a horse race. The event starts at 09:30 in the morning with a mass and blessing for the horse race, a procession at 11:00 noon, the horses are chosen at 12:00 noon in the Piazzale ex Ilva, another parade at 16:00, followed by the flag throwing palio competition at 18:00 in the same square, and then the horse race.
Held on the fourth Sunday of May, this event is one of the highlights of the Massa Marittima calendar and, indeed, one of the most important medieval pageants in Tuscany.
Although it isn't advertised as a palio, it is a competition of skill nevertheless and a special one at that: medieval archery with crossbows. Originating in the fourteenth century, the competition between the three divisions of this medieval city - the Terzieri of Cittavecchia, Cittanuova and Borgo - is preceeded by an historical costumed parade with trumpets and drums filling the narrow streets with amazing sound and spectacle.
This one isn't to be missed if you can help it!
Also held in August - see below.
The "Corsa delle Botti" in Suvereto - the race of the barrels is a competition between pairs of pushers and is run twice a year. The second is on the 14th August (see below). This one, however, involves barrel pushers from across the wine regions of Italy, with competing heats, a medieval flag waving display and then the finals: the winners of which gain the right to enter the Italian national team. The event is held in the historic centre of the town and starts at 16:30.
For more information: www.paliosuvereto.it
A three-day event involving the men, women, children and livestock of the towns of Campagnatico, Roccastrada, Roccatederighi and Vetulonia with folklore, gastronomic stands, music and dancing.
The palio race starts at 18:30 on the Sunday.
Details of this race to follow when I have found some reliable information!
Also known as the "Corsa dei Barchini", this is a palio of punts in the lagoon at Orbetello dating from 1768, proceeded by a parade in Spanish costume of the same period. Held on the last Sunday of July.
This competition is one of Maremma's medieval archery contests. On the last Sunday of July of each year (from its initiation in 1988), the event commences with a procession in historical costume from the mid-fifteenth century, followed by an archery tournament between the different parts of the Comune of Santa Fiora and the districts or "contrade" of the town itself.
Deciding which to attend in August if you are visiting Maremma will be difficult as nearly all of them this month are held around the "Ferroagusto" - the August bank holiday in Italy.
Two horse-riders from each of the three districts of Rocca, Porta and Valle of the small village of Montelaterone near Arcidosso compete for the palio prize. Part of the weekends festivities in honour of Maria Santissima della Pieve.
Held on the third Sunday in August.
The palio Marinaro dell'Assunta is a rowing boat race over 2800 meters between the five districts of the popular seaside port and town of Castiglione della Pescaia - the Castello, Ponte, Portaccia, Piazza and Marina. Starting at 17:00 in the historic town centre with a flag throwing display and proceeding to the Casa Xiemes - or Casa Rosaa - along the Bruna River for 18:30.
A four-oared rowing boat race against the currents for a 1500 meter stretch of the River Bruna between the five districts of Castiglione della Pescaia.
A 170 metres downhill mini-cart race as part of the Sagra dell'alta Maremma. There are food stands from 12:00 noon, a parade at 16:00 and the Palio dei Carretti between the districts of Centro, Maremma and Periferia starts at 17:00.
Well, this race does take place, but I have yet to find some reliable information! I will update this page when I do.
This "palio of tafetta" is a relay race challenge between the "contrade" or districts Tolomei and Pannocchieschi (which has its history on the medieval murder mystery tale of the Lady Pia de Tolomei). There is a sagra during the day from 12:00 noon until 19:00, with the competition starting at 21:30 in the historic centre of Gavorrano.
Photograph by kind permission of Enzo Tiberi
The Balestro del Girifalco is held on the second Sunday in August in the thirteenth century Piazza Garibaldi in the historic centre of spectacular Massa Marittima. There is also a magnificent display of flag waving and throwing accompanying the competition, one of the five largest crossbow re-enactments in the whole of Italy. The target is placed thirty-six metres away from the archers and I can tell you it is no mean feat to hit it, yet alone secure the central winning spot!
Also held in May - see above.
A two day event, with the donkey race Palio of San Lorenzo taking place on the Sunday following an historical costumed parade and a re-enactment of an event in the history of the Castello di Montereotondo (Montereotondo castle).
Photo by kind permission of brumsoroger
The great photograph above of the "Curva Valle" is by kind permission of Relisa.
The Palio Marinario dell'Argentario - a regatta boat race - is held every August 15th. The palio as it is known know started in 1937 under the organisation of the Comune di Argentario, but has its origins much earlier in the seventeenth century. The race consists of four competing boats (the "Guzzi") each representing one of the four districts of Monte Argentario - the Croce, Fortezza, Pilarella and Valle - each with four rowers and a helmsman along a 4000 metre circuit along the coast.
For more information: www.palioargentario.it
This donkey palio dates from 1295 when it was first run on 14 August as the "giostra dei sestrieri". It comprised part of the towns celebrations to mark the marriage that year - and hence the important attainment of the sovereignty of Roccatederighi - of Binda the daughter of Mino di Bindoccino, and Bartolomeo di Nuccio, the son of Lord Aldobrandino Saracini of Siena.
Originally a race between six districts, it is now contended between five: those of Corso, Nobili, Torre, Tramonto and Ventosa - the sixth called Tufolino having been incorporated into the district of Torre.
For more information: www.roccatederighi.info/palio.php
A competition of rowing skill in heavy fishing boats in the waters between Giglio Porto and Cala Lazzaretto (the cove of Lazzaretto). A course of 2000 metres between the three districts or "rioni" of "Chiesa", "Moletto" and "Saraceno". The Palio Marinaro commences at 19:00 after a day of celebrations - with parades, firework displays, traditional songs and dancing - in honour of the patron saint of the port, San Lorenzo.
This is the Emperors's race - a running of barrels through the historic centre of Suvereto (one of Maremma's well preserved medieval hill towns and one of my favourites). The event commences with a dinner betwen 19:00 and 22:00 in the Chiostro di San Francesco - a beautiful setting in the historic centre. the meal is open to everyone - without the need to pre-book - at cost of Euros 16,00 for a three course meal of pappardelle al cinghiale, cinghiale in umido con olive nere, and dolce e frutta di stagione, with local Suvereto wine. (There are alternative indoor arrangements if it rains.)
There is a parade with flagwavers in medieval costume, and then the barrel race itself at 22:00 between pairs of pushers. The course is 300 metres long - half uphill and half downhill, during which the barrel is not allowed to run free. It is no mean feat I hasten to add to control and push those barrels in the steep streets in Suvereto!
For more information: www.paliosuvereto.it
This event in Campagnatico is one of Maremma's donkey races. Historic records of a palio in Campagnatico date back to the 1400's when it was a horse race in honour of the Madonna. The "Festa della Madonna" (Festival of the Madonna) still continues to this day, but the horses have now been replaced by donkeys.
Two riders and donkeys from each of the districts of "Centro", "Santa Maria", "Pieve" and "Castello" compete along the ancient rampart wall that contains the town. The prize is a "Cencio" (literally translated means a rag) handpainted by a local artist.
At the completion of the donkey race there is a second: that of the "cusori " a race on foot between teams of under fourteen year old boys from each district. The whole day is filled with anticipation and betting, parades, processions and medieval flag throwing. A rural a twist on the Siena Palio!
As part of Capalbio's Sagra del Cinghiale, this palio comprises a costumed parade and medieval jousting between Maremmani Butteri - Maremma's cowboys. A unique event in Maremma.
This horse race palio dates back to the "Fiera di Merci e Bestiame" (Goods and Livestock Fair) of 9 September 1402 and is contended between the four "contrades" of Borgo, Monumento, Poggio and Storte.
For lots more information about its history: www.comune.casteldelpiano.gr.it/il_palio_delle_contrade.html
On the first Sunday of September - the last day of the festivities of the Sagra della Granocchia (Festival of the Frog) - this unique race in Maremma takes place through the main street of Paganico with men racing open wooden wheelbarrows upon which sit - but not always! - three Maremmane frogs. The winner of this palio is the first person - the "Granocchiaio" - over the finishing line with all three frogs still on his wheelbarrow, alive and well!
The prize at stake is the "cencio" (a decorated cloth or flag), which is paraded through the town on a cart pulled by oxen before the advent of the race and together with many towns folk in medieval costume.
The weekend event also includes a much contended culinary competition between the four districts of Paganico of "Centro", "Porta Gorella", "Porta Grossetana" and "Porta Senese" for the best frog dish.
A highlight of the Roccastrada festivities in September is this light-hearted donkey race between the eight "contrade" of "Torre", "Borgo", "Convento", "Fonte", "Capannacce-Volpaio", "Centro" , "Chiusone" and "Portoncino", through the streets of his hill top town. The palio is preceeded by a chariot parade of decorated floats - one for each of the districts - and the donkeys. Sixteen riders - two from each district - compete for the palio prize of an artists painting.
This October festival is a medieval one celebrated in costume, with parades and flag throwing displays on the last three Sundays of October. Preparations for the donkey race take place thoughout the three days - with an historical procession, mass and prayer readings etc, but it is on the last Sunday of the month, also the last day of the festival, that the actual race takes place. It is run through the streets of Sasseta bareback between the districts of the town and is a very competitive affair!
Each year on the first Sunday in September this traditional donkey race is between the four "contrade" or districts of Vetulonia: Borgo, Torre, San Gulielmo and Colonna.
Part of the Madonna del Rosario Festa event, the Palio delle Carriole is a wheelbarrow race in Vallerona.
This donkey race palio marks the finale of the days Sagra della Polenta (Polenta Festival). The race starts after an historical procession through the town at 15:00.
As well as the 33 palios above in Maremma, there are 4 in the villages and towns very close to the Maremma borders. In Aquapendente, Monticiano, Orte, and Piancastanaio.
Explore some more...