In the Palio, the feisty spirit of Siena’s 17 neighborhoods lives on. They celebrate, worship, and compete together. Each has its own parish church, well, or fountain, and even its own historical museum. Neighborhood pride is evident any time of year in the parades and colorful banners, lamps, and wall plaques. (If you hear distant drumming, run to it for some medieval action, often featuring flag-throwers.)
While the actual Palio packs the city, you could day-trip in from Florence to see horse-race trials each of the three days before the main event (for details, visit www.ilpalio.org).
The Palio is not some folkloristic event kept alive for tour groups. It’s a real medieval moment. When I considered filming it for my public-television show, local authorities said they’d rather not publicize it. If you’re there for the race—packed onto the square with 60,000 people, all hungry for victory—you won’t see much, but you will feel the spirit of Siena.
Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. E-mail him at email@example.com, or write to him c/o P.O. Box 2009, Edmonds, WA 98020.
© 2010 Rick Steves