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 closely the rituals related to the historic horse race that every year takes place in the Piazza del Campo, the core of the town. Far from being a mere ‘race’, the Palio is truly a one-of-a-kind event which does not take place simply twice a year in the main square of the town but is actually a phenomenon that transversely the life of Siena and the Sienese, dictating its rhythms and habits. It can therefore be said that the Palio takes place in Siena throughout the year and in the two carriers (the races) of July and August, moments of choral and solemn expression, is when it overwhelms everything around it.
Siena is one of the very few European cities where some medieval values are still authentically lived; this does not happen simply because the city boasts an excellent state of repair of its monuments – which have allowed it, among other things, to be recognized as a UNESCO site –, but, above all, because the sense of aggregation and belonging to some colours are remained rooted in the social fabric of the town.
A moment of the horse race in Piazza del Campo
The races in honor of the Virgin
The carriere – the way the race is traditionally called – takes place twice a year: on 2 July the Palio is held in honour of the Madonna di Provenzano; on 16 August the career was celebrated in honour of the Madonna Assunta (Virgin Mary Assumption), an anniversary which the Catholic Church celebrates the day before and which the Sienese want to commemorate on the 16 with the Palio in honour of the Virgin. If Piazza del Campo is the place that condenses all the attention of the Sienese and tourists in the days of the Palio, it is in the Contrade where, however, the days of the race are prepared and awaited impatiently. If you visit a Contrada in the upcoming days at 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 have a comprehensive idea about the reasons of this tradition.
Two options for the visit
What I advise you to do instead is to visit a Contrada away from the confusion of the feast, otherwise there is only the risk of hindering the coming and going of the Contradaioli who – it should be always remembered – renew this tradition every year, having absolutely no aim to increase tourism but, on the contrary, they do it to reunite themselves in 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 Contradaioli but keeping the right distance and discretion from what takes place in the Contrada. The tour organized in this way can end in Piazza del Campo, where you can watch the race sitting on the stands mounted in the square, or in the centre of the same, where the exit of the horses from the Podestà’s courtyard is awaited with great trepidation.
The second option that I propose is to visit Siena and its districts on a date that does not coincide with that of the two races: only then will we be able to enter one of the Contrada museums of the city, visiting them with the appropriate time it requires. The museums of the Contrade – which are seventeen in the town – are fantastic places where the banners won by the Contrada throughout its history are kept. It is interesting to know that it is the drappelloni (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 – artefacts standing out for being real works of art as they are made by artists, in some cases even internationally renowned –, what is really of great interest to see in a Contrada museum are the monture, the clothes and armours worn by the Contradaioli for the “Comparsa“, that is, the procession that, as we will see, precedes the race. Some of these precious artefacts preserved by the Contrade date back to the nineteenth-century, while some of the draperies that have come down to us date back to the eighteenth-century. The other interesting spaces to visit inside a Contrada are the Oratories, small churches that are authentic treasure chests of art and where you can often appreciate the works created by renowned Sienese artists.
The horse in the Oratory
You will certainly be surprised when you discover that the exclusive protagonist of the Palio is brought into the Oratory: the horse; we will see the reasons why the horses, participating in the race, are brought into the Contrada Oratory.
What you will finally discover with a Palio tour of Siena is that each Contrada has a fountain, but not an unremarkable fountain, since the Contrada fountain – known as Fontanina for the Contradaioli – almost always bears the symbol of the Contrada itself. Passing before one of these fountains, I will show you that, as well as inside the Oratories, a very special ritual is held here once a year: the baptism of the Contrada …
The “historical procession” in Piazza del Campo
We will end our Palio tour of Siena in Piazza del Campo, the square that has been the spectacular scenery of the race since the sixteenth-century. The carriere taking place in July and August in this square are preceded by a suggestive procession – called passeggiata storica (historic walk) –, an event that sees all the representatives of the seventeen districts participating in, in addition to the figures representing the military and administrative bodies of the ancient Republic of Siena. The Palio tour of Siena and its Contrade is therefore the great opportunity to get to know the reality of Siena and, above all, to discover the most intimate soul of this one of a kind city in the world.
Detail of a the dress of a Procession member
The historic chariot brought in the procession in Piazza del Campo
The guide is not a tourist agency; therefore he cannot book external services (e.g. lunches or tastings).
The guide does not provide transportation service. For organized groups/squadrons by tourist coach, there are drop-off/drop-on points for passengers in the urban centre of Siena (click here to view the points). Tourist coaches are subject to the payment of a checkpoint (further information by clicking here). In the presence of different ables people, or people with ambulation difficulties, the sections of the route having the biggest difference in level, will be avoided.
TAKE NOTICE: because of organizational reasons, visiting a Contrada Museum requires a reservation.
To get further information about the tour, to book the tour or to get the contact of a licensed driver providing private transfer service, please write to: