Thursday, July 3, 2008

Il Palio di Sienna!

So we had the BEST class yet yesterday...! Our instructor took us to Sienna to be a part of one of Italy's oldest traditions, The Palio Horserace.

For those who don't know about this race, it's a tradition that dates back to the mid 1600's, in which each horse represents a different "contrade" or city ward. Similliar to the burrows of Manhatten, but with far deeper roots and tradition. The italians have a lot of pride for their Contrade, and you cannot become part of one by merely living in Sienna. You are either born into it, or are asked to become a member after years of devotion to it.

The entire festival lasts for around 4 days, but we arrived for the best part... THE RACE! As we got to the Duomo, the parade had already begun. Members of the contrade marched the streets donning their tradtional period costumes and carrying their flags. These weren't simple garments whipped up by grandma! I saw probaby some of the most amazing and beautiful costumes, millinary,leather, and armor of my life. (And you KNOW I've seen a lot of costumes!!)

At the end of the square, the flag carriers perform by twirling and tossing their flags in the air choreographed to drumming. This is an important tradition, because before the race begins, each flag carrier tosses their flags in the air, and the one whose flag is the highest is thought to carry good luck with them to win the race.

After the parade in the streets... it was time to crowd into the Piazza to watch the race. Keep in mind, they close the doors at around 5:30-6:00pm and the race doesn't start until 8pm. NO BATHROOMS on the infeild!

But we weren't bored in the slightest, because the parade was only the tip of the pomp & circumstance iceburg. They begin the opening ceremonies with a group of men on horseback in costume, and they make 3 laps around the track...first walking, second trotting, third cantering. This was beautiful!!

After that, each contrade parades around the arena, displaying their prized racehorse (along with all of the other spectacle). It's hard to describe how amazing and different this procession is...I'm so happy I got to witness it!

After all of the spectacle comes to close... it's finally time for the race! But this is no ordinary race...there are no gates, and the horses are lined up at a rope. There are 10 horses, but only 9 line up... and the 10th horse waits in the back. The race only begins when the jockey of the 10th horse calls it. It's known that he usually waits until his rival is unprepared... AND THEIR OFF!

oh yeah... they are BAREBACK!! The race is incredible... 3 riders lost their horses, and to see a free horse running around a track was probably the best part.

As far as my italian experiences thusfar, this has the be the topper. To be a part of a tradition that's older than my own country's birthday... was something to always remember...AND to have that tradition involve horses made it that much sweeter!

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