By Amanda Byrne
17 competing districts. Hopelessly invested spectators. No rules. You’ll think you’re in a real-life adaptation of the Hunger Games. This is Siena di Palio.
Twice a year, the 17 districts, or contrades, of the medieval city of Siena flood Piazza del Campo to watch a spectacle that is quite conservatively categorized as a horse race.
The Siena di Palio has many similarities to the Hunger Games. This battle dates back to the early days of the region: the 1100’s to be exact. A meticulously orchestrated traditional parade procession precedes the chaos that is the event. Nothing happens the same way twice. The race never lasts the same amount of time. Jockeys use an onslaught of methods to gain advantage. Rules are thrown to the wayside and all that matters is the end result. Competitors will fight with everything they have. Instead of whipping the horse, they’ll whip the other jockeys. The winning horse doesn’t even have to have a jockey riding when it crosses the finish line. This is convenient considering most of the horses lose their jockeys when they pass the sharp 90 degree corner turn.
The winner is swarmed with ecstatic contrada members. The streets explode in both celebration and catastrophe, depending on which contrade one supports. Whether it be tears of joy or tears of sorrow, grown men will sob. Either way, the festivities carry on well into the night. Members of the winning district will proudly walk the streets with pacifiers hanging out of their mouths for up to a week. After all of this rigmarole, what is the all-coveted prize for the winning district? Not money; not gifts: pride.