I closed the last post by saying that the world of the Siena contradaioli (the members of the various contrade) is almost entirely focused on the two days a year on which there’s a horse race, which today is referred to as the Palio, or in Italian, “Il Palio.” Now it’s time to learn more about the Palio itself.
Siena, Italy, is a city with two personalities: a successful modern culture layered onto a rich, storied medieval foundation that functions today much as it did 800 years ago. I love it, and recently returned from a visit there to experience the crazy bareback horse race known as the Palio. There’s so much to talk about that I’m planning to divide my story into two blog posts; this one will tell the background story, and the next will cover the Palio itself.
A long history, in brief
Historians tell us that Etruscans founded Siena a few hundred years B.C., and then the Romans arrived in the first century B.C. But that’s a little dry and the legend contains more intrigue: it holds that Siena was founded by Senio and Ascanio, sons of Remus and nephews of Romulus, the founder of Rome. Romulus murdered his brother, whose sons then fled Rome. The twins took a statue of the she-wolf suckling the infants Romulus and Remus, made the symbol their own, and founded Siena; today, these statues are seen all over town.
I have fallen in love. His name is Ruchè (roo-KEH). He lives in the northwest of Italy, in the area known as Piemonte (Piedmont in English).
But before I divulge the details, let’s go first to the beginning of the day when it all happened, when I was awakened in the early morning by a crashing storm that brought loud thunder and pounding rain. I had thought I might arise early, and go for a walk to explore the little hilltop town of Castagnole Monferrato before breakfast. But the dark skies and the pouring rain helped me make the decision to stay in bed and sleep a little longer. Thunder gets my pulses going, but steady rain lulls me to sleep.