A lot of my bucket list entries seem to be inspired by books, as you may have noticed if you have been reading them so far. This one is a little different, as my desire to go here has been partially inspired by my love of Italy and of horses, growing up in a town fuelled by the world’s oldest Classic horse race and seeing all the excitement and razzmatazz this brings with it, partly by the opening of a Bond film starring my favourite Bond (Kate Baker will know who I am talking about!) and partly by a young adult fantasy novel.
How can a fantasy novel inspire a trip to a real place, I hear you cry? Well, have a read of the second book in Mary Hoffman’s Stravaganza series, City of Stars, and you’ll understand. The books are set in a fictional world called Talia, which resembles sixteenth-century Italy, and this book focuses on a horse race called the Stellata, which is obviously modelled on the Palio.
For those of you who have never heard of it, the Palio di Siena is a horse race held twice a year in the Siena, Italy. Ten horses and riders race around the city square, the Piazza Del Campo, bareback and dressed in the colours of the contrade, or city wards that they represent. A pageant or historical costume parade, the Corteo Storico, precedes the race and the spectacle attracts thousands of visitors from around the world.
The length of the race is three circuits of the square and lasts only about 90 seconds. Riders often fall off on the steeply canted track, particularly as riders may use whips not only on their own horse but to disrupt their rivals, and riderless horses can finish and win the race, as it is the horse representing the contrade, and not the jockey that triumphs. The loser in the race is considered to be the horse that comes second, and not the last horse.
The winner is awarded a banner of painted silk, known as a palio. Rivalry between the contrades is fierce and part of the game is to prevent rival wards winning, and celebrating the losses of historic enemies. The races date back to medieval times.
If you are a fan of Daniel Craig as James Bond, you will have seen a filmic representation of the Palio, as the opening scene of Quantum of Solace takes place while the famous race is being run. It was my re-watching of this film over Christmas that prompted me to make this Bucket List Entry #4.