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The Palio di Siena is the world’s oldest horserace, a tradition that dates back to the 14th century. Now, in Cosima Spender’s doucmentary “Palio“, you can experience the excitement for yourself.
In 14th century Siena, public games were held annually in the central plaza of the city, one of the most popular of which was a horse race between representatives of the city’s seventeen contrada, or wards. This race was held on July 2nd, the Feast of the Visitation. A second race was added in August in 1701, on the 16th, to coincide with the Feast of the Assumption. Today, the two races are the most popular cultural event in the city.
The race is between ten riders, representing ten of the city’s contrada. Seven riders come from the contrada that were unrepresented in the previous race, and three are drawn by lot. The assignment of horses to jockeys occurs three days before the race, and is also drawn by lot. The race is then three times around the Piazza del Campo, with jockeys allowed to use their whips not only on their own horse, but also on other horses and riders, in a frenzied 90 second dash for the finish. And if the jockey is knocked off their horse, that’s okay – a horse can win by itself.
Acclaimed by critics, “Palio” documents the 2013 races in all their glory, from the festivities to the rivalries between veteran jockeys and hopeful newcomers. It also doesn’t shy from showing the seedy undercurrent of bribery and race fixing, leading one historian to name the Palio “a game of legitimate corruption”. But none of these things can trump the thrill of the races themselves.
Fans of racing, sports and Italian culture won’t want to miss this extraordinary film.
If you love this film, check out Black Caviar: The Horse of a Lifetime, the story of Australia’s greatest race horse.