The Sunday after March 19 (or on March 19 itself if it falls on a Sunday), at the half-amphitheatre where the major Torrita di Siena football game takes place, the eight historic districts (contrade) of the town face off in the Palio dei Somari, a donkey race. Each contrada is represented by a donkey chosen at random. On their backs, jockeys aim to lead the donkey toward the finish line ahead of the others, but predicting the winner is always a challenge because the animals’ temperament is very tough to predict. After four rounds, the competition ends and the year’s banner is awarded to the winning neighborhood, who then triumphantly takes it to display in their headquarters.
The animals that participate in the Palio each year are selected by a commission with support from veterinarians and under supervision of the event’s organizing body. It’s important to emphasize that animals are fully respected in the game proceedings: article 14 of the regulation punishes any incorrect or violent conduct by disqualifying offenders for one or two years.
The Palio was founded to celebrate Saint Joseph and is paired with a well-attended historic procession, in which onlookers can admire flag throwers and numerous figures in refined and elaborate costumes. The district with the finest costuming is awarded a prize, known as the “sfoggiato,” roughly translated as “braggart”.
Determining who among the districts of Porta a Pago, Porta a Sole, Porta Gavina and Porta Nova (within the walls), Cavone, Le Fonti, Refenero and Stazione (outside of them) will earn the banner and bragging rights is always a tough call.