Passion of the Palio

In Siena, Italy


Twice a year, an historical event takes place in the heart of Tuscany. With roots going directly back to 1656, the Palio di Siena is a unique blend of religion, competition, and civic pride.

Siena is an ancient city. During medieval times, it developed a cultural and administrative system of wards to provide for the city's defense. Those wards persist to this day as contrade. Each of Siena's seventeen contrada is defined as a neighborhood, and has not only a mascot and motto, but sometimes a patron saint.

The city is organized around its central square—the Piazza del Campo—and throughout its history the square has played host to a variety of celebrations and competitions. On August 16, 1656, the Piazza was the site of the first Palio horse race, which was run to celebrate a miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mary. The tradition continues largely as it always has, with a Palio run in both July and August of each year, coinciding with the Feast of the Visitation, and the Feast of the Assumption.

"The days of the Palio" begin with the choice of the ten participating contrade, the horses, and the assignment of rider to horse, and end with a three lap race around the Piazza del Campo. Each event is preceded by parades, celebrations, and dinners. And each event is imbued with chance and luck. 

With more than 30,000 people participating in the Palio, it is a significant cultural experience. Apogeo Photos Member James Conley documented the July 2017 Palio. We are pleased to share his story.