The Palio of Siena
The Palio of Siena with its exciting horse race is one of the most popular and well-known historic festivals in Italy. The contest to win the palio of Siena is a horse race run in Siena's fan-shaped main square, Piazza del Campo or Il Campo.
Siena is divided into 17 neighborhoods, or contrade, each with a rider. Ten contrade take part in the first race, July 2, chosen by a draw 20 days before the race. The other seven plus three from the July race compete August 16. Horses are assigned to the riders by a draw three days before the race. There are other events around the days of the palio, too, starting June 29 and August 13.
Palio RaceRace day starts with a special mass, trial runs by the jockeys, and blessing of the horses. In the afternoon starting around 3pm there's a procession through the historic center of Siena with costumed participants from each contrada and performances by flag throwers. The historic parade ends at Piazza del Campo.
Before the race the starting line-up is decided by lottery and horses are lined up behind a rope, the traditional starting gate. The race is about 1000 meters total, with horses circling the track three times, taking less than two minutes. The contrada of the winning horse is awarded the palio, or victory flag. Winning the palio is a huge honor and the race is highly competitive.
Palio PicturesEnjoy these Siena Palio photos taken at the palio race in July, 2005, by photographers Joe Bauwens and Marybeth Flower.
Siena Visitor InformationSee our Siena Travel Guide for more about visiting the Tuscany hill town of Siena and check our Tuscany Transportation Map for Siena's location and how to get to Siena on public transportation.
How to See the Siena Palio
The palio races are very crowded - you might be able to snag a standing place (there's standing room for about 28,000), but reserved seats (33,000) are usually sold out in advance. You can watch the flag twirling from several places in town; one of the best but most crowded places is by the Duomo. Be sure to book a hotel well in advance - here are Top Rated Siena Hotels.
Palio tickets can be bought from Select Italy or you can buy the 3-night Palio Package that includes a reserved ticket to the parade and palio race, contrada banquet dinner, and tour of Siena and a contrada museum. Palio Tours has a palio package that includes pre-race activities, palio tickets, and Siena accommodations for 3 to 7 nights.
What is a Palio?
People often mistakenly believe that a palio is a horse race or that the only palio is held in Siena. In fact there are many palio contests in Italy. Find out more with our palio definition.