53100 Siena, Province of Siena, Italy
Il PalioEach spring as a child, I looked forward to the annual Derby Day party in our family backyard when my parents’ friends donned odd hats and downed mint julips. Somehow, I thought Il Palio was going to bring back childhood memories, but the Kentucky Derby is a back alley pony show compared to the tradition of Il Palio. The sheer volume of medieval pomp and circumstance is unparalleled.
I was able to score a seat in the stands at a critical corner of the racecourse. It’s a big commitment. You sit for 3-4 hours in the sun watching the medieval festivities and melting in the process. The stands are ridiculously crowded. And, you pay 180 Euros for this privilege. It was worth it for the vantage point I got but next time, I’ll just hang out with the masses in the center of the racecourse, which is free (but requires you line up 6-8 hours early) and the ingenious slanted design of the plaza gives everyone great sight lines.
There are an estimated 70,000 people watching this spectacle and they’re wedged into every single extra crevice facing the piazza.
As it gets closer to the starting time, a complete hush overcomes the crowd. It is completely silent as the announcer belts out the poll positions for each horse.
Finally, the race begins. After days of parties, parades, and pandemonium, the whole affair will be done in 90 seconds with a wild gallop around the course three times.
Afterward, I stayed in the piazza lingering and just soaking in the collective effervescence.