The Palio of Siena is a 500-year-old horse race famous for tales of danger, emotions and unbridled passion. But it’s also the reason why Siena is one of the most harmonious places to live in all of Europe. All thanks to 17 rival “families”—or contrade—whose traditions have both fiercely divided, and deeply united the citizens for centuries.
The 17 Families of Siena
Life inside a contrada isn’t just about loyalty or rivalry. It’s also about identity. Each contrada has its own symbol, such as the Unicorn, the Goose or the Dragon (as seen here). They subscribe to their own motto, worship in their own church, and have their own traditions and culture.
A Reward Greater Than Victory
Believe it or not, the Palio isn’t fought for money. The "palio" is actually the name of the silk flag—also called the drappellone—that the contrada receives for winning the race. Here you can see just a few palios the Contrada of the Dragon have won since the 17th century, hanging proudly in their museum.
The Flag Bearers of the Palio
One of the most loved traditions of the Corteo Storico is the flag waving event. All 17 contrade take part in this event (including the ones who are not competing).
Each contrada has its own “alfiere” team—made up of two flag bearers—who roll and toss their traditional flags in the air in a rousing display of pride that leads to the Palio
The Palio is Life
The Palio has now ended. But for the people of the contrade, the Palio is a way of life that lasts all year. It the powerful glue that has held this society together throughout the ages, and will continue to do so for generations to come.