The Palio / Christian Sinibaldi


Held twice a year, in July and August, the culmination of the Palio di Siena is a ninety second horse race. But for Sienese it is so much more than that: held since 1656 it is the embodiment of civic pride and dominates life throughout the year.

Ten horses and riders representing ten of the city wards compete in a three lap race around the Piazza Del Campo. There are seventeen contrada, or wards, in Siena. The Contrada are a cities within a city and provide a social structure, support network and civic identity. The Palio marks the apex of their rivalry.

With it’s own Parliament and assembly each Contrada is like a republic. The Priore is head of the Contrada, the Captain is the ministry of war and in charge of the Palio.

“The palio in fact is like a war.” It is neither a reenactment or a show put on for tourists. It’s real, and can be brutal.

Four days before the actual race the Tratta marks the opening day of the Palio. Forty horses race around the Campo, with just ten picked by the Captains. Selected by lottery each Contrada is given a horse.

Some horses are better than others and the Campo knows it. The ‘Barbaresco’ is in charge and picks the horse and brings it back to the Contrada. Only then do the Captain and i Mangini (deputies) start contacting the jockeys. Once the jockey has agreed he arrives in the Contrada and kept in a secure place for four days and, being escorted day and night.

Following the Tratta the trial races begin. There are six in all, twice a day, running up to the day of the Palio itself. Each evening the Contrada, even the ones that don’t run, hold the ‘cenini’ – small dinners. The night before the Palio is the main dinner – with the jockey too. With every passing day, the atmosphere and the tension build until the moment of the race. Ninety seconds later it’s all over but a victory lasts for ever and is celebrated throughout the following year.

Until the next Palio.


About Christian

Winner of the 2014 IPA One Shot:One World Competition Christian has found critical and commercial success in the thirteen years since basing himself in London. Regular trips to Italy suggest his countrymen realise they’ve lost a talent to the UK.

"Photography, for me, is about different points of view. The vanishing point and depth of field in a picture is related to your feelings and the message that you’re trying to communicate. The subject is just the initial mask.  Photographs are built on levels of meaning. Photography is a strong medium... a vision that can speak."

(To read more about Christian Sinibaldi, see Who we are)

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