Siena, Italy – Medieval Life and Il Palio

Italy has many well-known travel destinations, but some of those less publicized can offer just as much – one such destination is Siena, known for the famous Palio.

Siena

Located roughly an hour outside of Florence, Siena is one of my favorite places in Italy. When you think gothic architecture and medieval towns, you think of Siena. Built as a fortified city behind large, thick walls on a small mountain, Siena oozes history. Cars are barred from much of the city, so you can meander down ancient brick alleyways below towering wall-to-wall residences.

In Siena, you’ll find a relaxed way of life, two music schools and just a general feel of what Italy must have been like in the past. Head to the Piazza del Campo in the heart of the city and grab a seat in a cafe. As you gaze across the city, you can view the Duomo Cathedral towering over the city. Unlike other cities, the cathedral does not contrast with the buildings around it. All of Siena retains the gothic medieval architectural style and you’ll be hard pressed to find a better example of gothic style in Europe.

The best way to experience Siena is to simply stay there. Like wine, Siena improves the longer you stay. Your daily explorations will lead you to surprising little shops, incredibly friendly people and a general feeling of peacefulness.

Palio di Siena

If you would prefer to add a little action trip your trip, plan your visit to Siena to around either of the races locally known as “Il Palio”. There are two bareback horse races around the Piazza del Campo on the same days each year.

The first, Palio di Provenzano is held on July 2 in honor of the Madonna of Povenzano and her church in Siena. On August 16 each year, you will see Palio dell’Assunta, the second race held in honor of the Assumption of Mary.

The fun starts well before either race, when citizens of the seventeen contrade, or city wards challenge each other. This challenge comes in the form of bands walking through ‘enemy’ neighborhoods in the middle of the night and making the Palio – an unholy racket. Eventually, ten neighborhoods earn the right to produce a horse and rider for the day of the race.

Bareback, the riders race for neighborhood pride among an absolutely screaming crowd of people. The running of the bulls has nothing on this event. The Palio is truly amazing!

If you visit Florence while in Italy, take the time to spend a couple days in Siena, and definitely see the Palio if you can make the dates work.

You can visit Siena as part of our 10 Day Classic Italy Tour!