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The ‘Long' and the ‘Empty' Palios: the curious origins of the Siena Palio

Local Traditions

The ‘Long' and the ‘Empty' Palios: the curious origins of the Siena Palio

The Siena Palio has been known since 1200 when the Lords and the notaries of Siena were used to gambling their status and prestige by running their best horse in honour of St. Bonifazio before and during festivals and religious celebrations.
Although it is a game, the challenges were of fundamental importance and sometimes even decided political destinies and alliances. At the time the Palio was called “Long” and run along roads, in contrast to the 'Round Palio' that takes place nowadays with the horses running around the square.

Only in 1310 the City of Siena inserted the Palio in its charter, deciding to formalize the rules and giving the organizers and leaders of the race the name of "Deputies of the Party". It also decreed the day of the Assumption (15 August) as the date for the main competition to take place.
On the Long Palio the horses were initially ridden by jockeys who wore the livery and colours of the lineage they represented; later, it acquired its truest form, and became an 'empty race', i.e. a competition between horses spurred and incited but without the jockey competing with each other. The horses madly ran through the city, wearing the plume and the friezes with the colours of their Lord who, in case of victory, received the gift of the Palio, a large precious fabric cloth adorned with leather.
The Long Palio soon acquired in Siena  a very important role in the life of the city and has always taken place, even in 1348 and in 1349 when Siena was devastated by the Black Death.

In short, the Palio di Siena was run along the roads in an empty mode, but there was a third key difference: the horse. The horse competing in the Palio belonged to the 'barbero' breed imported from Northern Africa by the Romans. In 1592 an edict said that no horse could be ridden unless it was a true barber. In the past, in fact, the Palio saw a mixture of breeds running. Chronicles tell of wonderful animals participating in the Palio dell'Assunta of 1494, when the Gonzagas from Mantua employed the sorrel ‘Siena Turkish' against the two samples of Lorenzo the Magnificent,Armellino' and 'Guerzo' .
You have now understood that the Palio was not necessarily an event limited to Siena! In the following decades many races began to run, but the problem was felt so much that, in 1793, the 'English horse' and the ‘thoroughbred Arab berber horse' were banned from the Palio.

The Long Palio was suspended in 1861 and, by application of the Ordinance of the City of Siena, also abolished on August 3, 1874, supplanted by the more popular Round Palio that was run in the square, divided by districts.
The Round Palio was officially 'established' on July 11, 1605 by letter of Fortunio Martini and Gismondo Santi, Deputies of the Festival that year, and sent to Lorenzo Usimbardi, first Grand Ducal Secretary. The letter explained why the round Palio was better than the long one. The round race was entirely visible, the long one only occasionally. In addition, all the people gathered in the square, guaranteeing greater public order due to all the fights that, as it is still the case today, have always characterized the history of this great tradition of Tuscany: the Siena Palio.

Book one of our fantastic hotels in Siena and live the emotion of this great event!

By Insidecom Editorial Staff

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