The Pali of Siena Horse race is one of the most famous events to take place in Italy each year on two dates: July 2 and August 16. It dates back to the Middle Ages although the exact origins of this event are now unknown. It has, however, been known to have been celebrated as far back as 1310. The August 16 horse race celebration is in honor of the Madonna Assunta which means ascension into heaven. In the 1650s, the July race was started following the apparition of the Virgin Mary to Provenzano Salvini, where there is now the Church of Provenzano. The Battle of Montaperti was fought in 1260. Siena was victorious over Florence. Symbolically and politically the race became even more significant. Other ceremonies and parades were gradually added. Palio di Siena

The city is divided into 17 contradas or neighborhoods. Each one is represented by its own colors and emblems. Painted plaques are placed on buildings to designate each neighborhood. The organizing of this race starts early each year. All the neighborhoods get involved and take great pride in their participation in this splendid, internationally recognized event.

The butteri, ("A buttero...is a shepherd or cowboy in the region of Maremma, in Tuscany in the Northern Latium and in the Pontine Marshes. The buttero habitually rides the horse typical of the Maremma, a Maremmano, and tends livestock, especially cattle (such as the native Maremmana breed) and sheep. The characteristic saddle is called a bardella. The buttero's attire consists of coarse cotton pants, leggings, a velvet jacket and a black hat. He protects himself from the rain with a large mantle called the pastràno. He carries the mazzarella, a stick employed for herding oxen and horses. They are still present in the memory of older Tuscans and in folk celebrations. On the day of Sant'Antonio Abate (January 17) for the benediction of the animals, they parade in the centers of Tarquinia, Tuscania, Marta, and Valentano. Butteri participate in the various fetes of the merca in Alberese, Blera, Monte Romano, Tarquinia, and Tuscania. In the merca held in April at the Roccaccia, not far from Tarquinia, after having branded the young calves born in the year, the butteri compete in games of ability. Solemn participation in various celebrations of Jesus Christ's Passion assumes particular color and vivacity in the procession of the Resurrected Christ held in Tarquinia in the late afternoon of Easter. The mounted butteri precede the statue through the crowd, firing salvoes with their maremmana shotguns...." are often seen, as well as retualized medieval re-enactments. There are rituals involved in re-enacting the medieval tradition.

"...The Piazza del Campo is the epicenter; in the days preceding the race it is covered with earth, then six trials are run to prepare both horses and riders for the conditions of the track. Other prescribed parts of the ceremonies include the drawing of lots to determine rider order, a Mass for the jockeys, and the blessing of the horses. The race is preceded by a pageantry parade of hundreds of participants in glorious period costumes. Each contrada marches through the street accompanied by their trumpeters and drummers, along with a host of representatives all decked out in authentically-reproduced Medieval garb. Flag-throwers perform with their intricate banner waving, a high-flying ballet of colored flags that are skillfully launched and displayed. The parade lasts for about two hours, and is followed by the 'carroccio,' an ox-drawn carriage that carries the Palio, the intricately painted banner for which the race is run. This prize is hand-made each year by a Sienese artist, and will be displayed proudly by the winning contrada until the next year's event. Following the Palio carriage is the black and white flag of the city of Siena...." Palio di Siena

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Italy's Famed Palio Horsemen Decline Royal Invitation
First posted:Jan 24, 2015
Last update: Jan 24, 2016