Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Lazy Day in Siena

Siena's Duomo was begun in the 12th century.
In the center of Siena is the shell-shaped Piazza del Campo. Designed before the 13th century as a marketplace, now it will remind you of a kind of brick beach where people meet and lounge and rest.

Twice a year, it looks more like this...
Photo Source
...as it is the sight for the Palio horse races.
photo source
Of course, this horse race caught my interest, so I did a little research.

What do you get if you cross the Kentucky Derby with with Roller Derby? What ever it is, it would bear a close resemblance to  Italy’s Palio di Siena. This is a horse race like none you’ve ever seen. Held twice a year on July2, and August 16 in Siena, Italy...

The field is made up of ten riders and horses from the seventeen Contrades (city divisions with names like Eagle, Caterpillar, Dragon, Seashell, Snail... how would you like to be in that group? ) . The first 7 allowed are the Contrades that did not get to run in the previous years race for that month. The other three are selected by a draw. Stable owners offer the pick of horses, and many more are often selected from other races held in Italy. The rules state that they must not be pure-bred horses, and all are screened by veterinarians for breed, health, and drugs. The final 10 horses are selected from the ones that pass the screenings by representatives of each Contrada. To keep the contest even, a lottery is held to determine which rider gets which horse.
Riders are not hindered by any rules, short of direct homicide. Quirts can be used on a riders own mount, as well as the rider and horse of other riders. And horses can be interfered with before the race as well, prompting riders to not leave their horses unattended. The race is restricted to a short 90-second run to limit the mayhem. The track is narrow, and spills are common. A downed rider and horse will almost certainly get trampled, sometimes seriously. Oh, and one other thing….the race is run bareback. Saddles are not allowed.
The object seems to be less about winning, than about keeping your rival Contrada from winning. A riderless horse crossing the finish line first is still the winner. The winning horse’s rider gets a highly prized hand-painted silk banner, and is treated to  a very enthusiastic series of victory celebrations, sometimes so extreme as to require hospitalization.

Crazy, don't you think?
After being smothered with hugs...

from this group of enthusiastic teenagers...

we decided to follow suit...

and do what the Italians do.

Potts had his responsibilities.

So I just stayed where I was...
and took pictures of things I could see...

while lying on my back!
Torre del Mangia - climbed this tower last visit for an amazing view of the city!
 Palazzo Pubblico

We ventured out and ended up...
in the Giraffe Contrade.
where we found the cutest drummer boy,
followed by his little siblings,
and his flag-waving pal.

Then back to the piazza for some people watching.

After dark, we finished the day with the other photographers at the Spadaforte Pizzeria on the edge of the piazza.

Our Tuscany Group

1 comment:

  1. What a great day this was! and the way you blog about it makes it even better to remember. Thank you!