The Palio of Siena is a competition involving the quarters of Siena (called “contrade”), in the form of a horse racing tournament of medieval origin.The “carriera” as it is traditionally called the race, usually takes place twice a year: July 2nd is the Palio in honor of the Madonna of Provenzano, and on August 16th that in honor of Our Lady of the Assumption.
Since 1200 there are evidences of a horse race in Siena, and documents preceding the twelfth century mention a “Palio di San Bonifacio”, which is the patron saint of the old cathedral, built in Castelvecchio, before the foundation of the current one. It was on the porch of the New Cathedral that was placed the district emblem, to mark the arrival of the horses (called “baberi”). When Siena turned into one of the wealthiest and most cultured cities in the Middle Ages, the Palio became the recreational and final event of the annual festivities in honor of the Virgin Mary of the Assumption, patron of Siena and its State.
The highlight of the festivities was the ceremony of the candles and incenses offer in the Cathedral, which was at the same time a religious and political rite, an act of devotion to Our Lady of the Sienese and of allegiance to the rulers of the city of Siena.