Palio Tour Siena
Historic centre of Siena
Madonna di Provenzano Church
Piazza del Campo
Duration of the tour: 3 hours
Suitable for children: yes
Accessibility for differently abled: yes
Difference in level: 50 metres
Further information at the bottom
Tour of the Palio of Siena, a unique tradition in the world
Through the Palio of Siena tour, you will get to know the rituals related to the historic horse race that every year takes place in the Piazza del Campo, the core of Siena town. Far from being a mere ‘race’, the Palio is truly a one-of-a-kind event that does not simply take place twice a year in the core of the city but it is actually a phenomenon that transversely crosses Siena’s life and the Sienese people, dictating their rhythms and habits. It can therefore be said that the Palio takes place in Siena throughout the year and then in the two ‘careers’ of July and August it is manifested, overwhelming everything around it.
Siena is one of the very few European cities where you can truly sense a medieval atmosphere and this not only thanks to the monuments that have allowed – among other things – to be acknowledged as a UNESCO site, but also for this unique phenomenon which is the Palio of the Contrade.
The origin of this event goes far back over the centuries and, like every year, when the weeks of the race are imminent, Siena is a triumph of colours and sounds: it is when the whole city throbs with energy and everything and everyone wants to reach Piazza del Campo.
A picture of the horse race in Piazza del Campo
The races in honor of the Virgin
The “carriere” – as the race is traditionally called –, takes place twice a year: on 2nd of July the Palio is held in honour of the Madonna di Provenzano; on the16th of August the career is celebrated in honour of the Madonna Assunta (Virgin Mary Assumption), an anniversary which Catholic Church celebrates the day before but which is particularly celebrated in Siena the 1day after by the Palio.
If Piazza del Campo is the place that condenses all the attention of Sienese and tourists in the days of the Palio, it’s in the Contrade where, however, the days of the race are prepared and awaited impatiently. If you visit a Contrada in the imminent days of the Palio you can clearly perceive the adrenaline that takes the soul of the ‘contradaioli‘ but, at the same time, there is no way to get into the roots of this tradition.
Two options for the visit
What I advise you to do is to visit a Contrada far from the confusion of the feast, also because doing like that there is only the risk of hindering the coming and going of the Contrada members who – it should be remembered – renew this tradition every year having absolutely no purpose of increase tourism but, on the contrary, they do it to gather between the districts of Siena and cyclically rediscover a ritual felt as strictly proper.
If you want to enjoy breathing the atmosphere of the party I propose two options:
The first is to participate in the Palio rituals on the day of the race, approaching the customs of the Contrada members while maintaining the right distance and discretion from what is done in the Contrada. The tour organized in this way can end in Piazza del Campo, where you can watch the career sitting on the stands mounted in the square or in the centre of the square, where the exit of the horses from the Podestà’s courtyard is awaited with great trepidation.
The second option that I propose you is to visit Siena and its districts on a date that does not coincide with the two runs. Only then will we be able to enter one of the Contrada museums of the town in the appropriate time it requires. The museums of the Contrade – which are seventeen in Siena – are fantastic places where the banners won by a Contrada throughout its history are kept. It is interesting to know that are just the banners that have given the name to the race (palio, from the Latin pallium).
A Fountain of Siena Contrade
Detail of some page boys in the procession
A tour in the core of Siena: the Contrada
In addition to the ‘palii’ that are artefacts standing out for truly being works of art – as they are made by artists, even in some cases internationally renowned –, what is really of great interest to see in a Contrada museum are the ‘monture’ (uniforms) and the costumes that the Contrada members use for the “comparsa” (the walk-on in the procession), that is, the clothes and artefacts worn on the occasion of the procession that, as we will see, precedes the race. Some of the costumes and flags preserved by the Contrade date back to the 19th century, while some of the draperies that have come down to us date back to the 18th century. The other interesting spaces to visit inside a Contrada are the Oratories, authentic art treasure chests where, in most cases, what can be admired are works created by renowned Sienese artists.
The horse in the Oratory
What will surely surprise you will be the discovery that the exclusive protagonist of the Palio is brought into the Oratory: the horse. We therefore go to see together why the horses participating in the career are brought into the Contrada Oratory …
Finally, what can be seen by a tour of the Siena Palio is why each Contrada has a fountain that is not merely a fountain since it almost always it bears the symbol of the Contrada. Just as inside the Oratories, something very special happens once a year in front of these fountains: that is the Contrada baptism …
The “historical procession” in Piazza del Campo
We will end our tour of the Palio in Piazza del Campo, the square that has been the spectacular scenery of the race since the 16th century. The ‘carriera’ which takes place in July and August in this square, is preceded by a suggestive procession – what is called “passeggiata storica” (historic walk) – an event that sees all the representatives of the seventeen districts, in addition to the figures of the military and administrative bodies that recall all the important figures of the ancient Sienese Republic. The tour of Siena Palio is therefore the great opportunity to get to know the reality of Siena and, above all, to discover the most intimate soul of this city that is truly unique in the world.
Detail of a the dress of a Procession member
The historic chariot brought in the procession in Piazza del Campo
This tour can also be done in combination with the other available tours on Siena and province and which can be consulted in the Menu or by clicking here.
The guide is not a tourist agency; therefore he cannot book external services (e.g. lunches or tastings) but only provide information and contacts to customers for external services.
The guide does not provide transportation service; customers need to reach the meeting point established for the route on their own, as per the map above. For organized groups by bus, there are drop-off/drop-on points fro passengers in the urban centre of Siena (click here to view the points). The arrival to Siena by touristic bus requires the payment of a checkpoint (further information by clicking here).
TAKE NOTICE: because of organizational reasons, visiting a Contrada Museum requires a reservation. To get further information, to book a visit to a Contrada Museum or to get the contact of a licensed driver who provides private transfer service, write to: