Elegant Chaos
June 29, 2007 11:55 AM   Subscribe

This next Monday, watch for the first race of Il Palio Di Siena. For several weeks before the race the streets are filled with parading, feasting, practice races in the afternoons and lots of hyped up Italians. Each neighborhood of the city trains a horse to represent it and is much rivalry that stems back to medieval times. A riderless horse can win, unless the feather on top of the bridle is knocked off, there are no rules once the race begins, may the Madonna let the best horse win.
posted by Viomeda (16 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This always seems to happen, I'm missing a 'there' in the third sentence, sorry. I really need to stop being in such a hurry.
posted by Viomeda at 12:06 PM on June 29, 2007

don't worry, as long as the feather on top of the post isn't knocked off, you can still win at metafilter.

I've seen clips of this race on travel shows several times but never caught the name. Interesting post.
posted by concreteforest at 12:10 PM on June 29, 2007

Wow, that sounds like great fun!
posted by dejah420 at 12:37 PM on June 29, 2007

Oh! I was going to post about this and totally forgot to. I watched it last year in July while backpacking in Europe. Here's an AskMe I posted before I went.

It was one of the most amazing things I ever saw. If you will forgive the self-link, you might enjoy my travelblog recounting the event: Part one, Part two.

And if you can't make the race in July, there is another one in August, around the 15th I think.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:20 PM on June 29, 2007

Plus the photos I took to go with the story. Also if you get tired at looking at my own amateur stuff, there is a lovely Palio Flickr pool.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:23 PM on June 29, 2007

The second race is 8/16. These are the horses who didn't qualify for the July race.

I love how they bless the horses in the church before, cracks me up.
posted by Viomeda at 1:34 PM on June 29, 2007

wow Viomeda, *that* was an exhilarating horse race in your last link! what a difficult course it is, so narrow. yikes. Wondered if the riders and horses that collided made it out alive. The video caused me to actually squeal in anxiety and anticipation. The beginning was really cool, with the first rider leaping into the front.

You're right about the elegant chaos. Good description of one of the things I like best about Italy. Surprised not to find any decent videos of the Bruco Palio, especially the flag throwing.
posted by nickyskye at 1:50 PM on June 29, 2007

2nd race is on or about Ferragusto.

- BC, Cetona (SI), Italia
posted by wfc123 at 2:17 PM on June 29, 2007

Youtube is blocked for me at work, so I can't tell how obvious this is in all the videos you linked. But the most fascinating thing about the race, to me, is the size and shape of the track itself. It's shaped like a half circle, or a letter D, basically. Which means that ten horses, all crammed into a tiny narrow sidewalk, have to execute sudden, full-speed right angle turns twice in each lap.

One year while visiting Siena shortly after the Palio, I asked a local about those sharp turns, and if the commotion and collisions ever knocked the jockeys off their horses. The local said sure, of course, but it doesn't really matter which jockey crosses the finish line first, just which horse. So at least once, he told me, the treasured palio was awarded to the neighborhood whose riderless horse sprinted through the finish tape, while its jockey was left pancaked up against one of those burnt siena brick walls or in the middle of the mob packing the vast central courtyard.
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 2:42 PM on June 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

The first of the two corners is especially dangerous. Not only is there a 90 degree turn, but the track goes from wide to narrow during the turn, and slopes downhill. In the race I saw, four jockeys went tumbling off in the first lap. It is well-known as the most dangerous spot: the wall was built out of blocks of hay, and emergency responders were right behidn. As soon as horses cleared the corner, the officials ripped down the wall, rushed out, grabbed the jockeys, rushed back in, and rebuilt the wall - seconds before the horses went galloping by on the second lap.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:51 PM on June 29, 2007

I thought the races went through the labyrinthine streets of Siena. But it's around the scalloped square. Not so extremely difficult.
To busy for me to go visit during the races.
posted by jouke at 3:56 PM on June 29, 2007

You might enjoy "Il Palio delle Contrade Morte" by Fruttero&Lucentini, an erudite metaphysical murder mystery set in Siena during the races. (Can't seem to find if it's ever been translated into English...)
posted by progosk at 4:46 PM on June 29, 2007

I wanted to see the Palio ever since I read Marguerite Henry's Gaudenzia, Pride of the Palio as a kid. I finally saw it years ago - as a spectator event it's mostly a blur of horses seen through the crowd, then nothing, then another blur of horses, with lots and lots of yelling. The pagentry beforehand is pretty spectacular - much waving of flags and acrobatics with flags and so on. Siena is one of my favorite places in the world, and the Palio is absolutely worth seeing, but Siena during the Palio is really crammed to the gills with tourists, and not at its best.
posted by gingerbeer at 5:38 PM on June 29, 2007

"There exists persons of exceptional talent. I was one."

"No one at the Palio of Sienna, at least those of the present day, has been able to do that which I and also my adversaries have done. If they are not being factious, they cannot but recognise that I was the best of everyone and that it will be difficult that someone will be born who is able to surpass me."

- Andrea Degortes, nicknamed Aceto* ('Vinegar'), the only man in the 20th century to win the Palio di Sienna 14 times out of 58 participations.

He is surpassed by only two other fantini, Mattia Mancini (b. 1745 - d. 1780), and Francesco Santini (b.1809), who are tied with 15 wins each.

*Crappy Engish translations all mine. Links in Italian, I'm afraid
posted by romakimmy at 5:29 AM on June 30, 2007

The race itself is a blur, but the parades, those are wonderful!
I got to be in Bruco's cantrada (sp) many years ago when I ran away from home to Europe for about three months. It was absolutely like stepping back in time.
posted by pywacket at 12:21 PM on June 30, 2007

Talk about chaos! After a neck&neck finish, everyone (including the TV commentators) was convinced race-leader Oca had won, and the contradaioli went to claim the palio drape - but then the Palazzo Pubblico assigns the victory to Nicchio. The opposing camps clash on the course, as Nicchio supporters grab the palio back. Then (apparently after checking the photos) the officials change their mind and proclaim Oca winner. Riots ensue.
posted by progosk at 4:04 AM on July 3, 2007

« Older It's Friday ... time to change the wallpaper.   |   10 years of "One Country, Two Systems" Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments