For SIPA founder & art director Luca Venturi, Siena’s ancient Palio horse race is much more than just an opportunity to make electrifying images. As a native of Siena and a resident of the “Dragon” contrada or district (2018’s winning contrada), this ancient tradition in his blood.

Some contradaioli sing together under the Torre del Mangia, just they entered to Piazza del Campo. Singing is one of the most important and irreplaceable elements of the great patrimony of the Contrada. It is an intangible heritage of great importance because it has a profound communicative and aggregating value. The “contradaioli” (members of the contrada) since when were a child, have heard and, as a consequence, learned, the popular songs performed by adults and their parents.

Over the past several years, Venturi’s documentation of Palio di Siena has received international acclaim, with a gallery of his work featured in National Geographic and an exhibition in London this year.

The Jockey Andrea Mari, also known as Brio, is shouting along with the captain of the Dragon district Fabio Miraldi and some contradaioli, a few moments before the race. This is a ritual usually conducted after the blessing of the horsein order to encourage and support the jockey. The jockeys need to feel the contradaioli close to him in the most important event of the year. He will spend the last few hours before the race only together with the captain and his entourage, never left alone, to be sure that he doesn’t have relationships with other districts and that he doesn’t cheat and sell himself to them. These hours are particularly nervewracking for him and all the members of the contrada.

In a profile for EOS Magazine, Venturi describes his unique connection to the event that has been held in Siena’s Piazza del Campo for hundreds of years. Il Palio will soon take place again on July 2 and August 16 in honor of the religious holidays, the Visitation and the Ascension of the Virgin Mary, Siena’s Patron Protector:

“I was born in the city of Siena, where I still live. The Palio is an event that only people who were born and have lived in this Tuscan city can fully understand. For this reason, and thanks to my knowledge of the city and the format of the festival, I was able to reach places usually impenetrable to tourists and photographers, to capture the scene from unusual viewpoints.
My photo story transmits the emotion, the pathos and the atmosphere of the celebration.”

The horses charge at speed around the dangerous slightly downhill curve “Curva di San Martino,” often the spot where the outcome of the race is decided. This was the better viewpoint to make me feel swept away by the rush of adrenaline of the race and I was left gasping for air each of the three times the horses have passed under my eyes. In the past, the borders of this curve were covered in mattresses in an attempt to protect falling horses and jockeys. Recently, the curve is sheathed in the same plastic material used as buffer in car racing.

Those attending this year’s Siena Awards Festival should note that a special guided tour will take place October 27 to share the excitement and mystery of Palio di Siena with lucky festival goers. Learn more and register here:

The “Barbaresco” or groom, responsible and custodian of the horse, leads the horse to the stable of the Dragon district accompanied by the contradaioli (supporters of the contrada).  After each horse is assigned to the contrada, the “Barbaresco” retrieves the horse which was drawn and takes it back to the Contrada’s stall in order to take care of and assist the animal. From the moment the horse is assigned, it is the barbaresco’s sole responsibility to ensure the welfare of the horse. It is absolutely vital that the groom is accompanied by the members of the contrada at all times until the Palio is over, in order to protect and guard the horse.

About The Author

Gina Williams is a Portland, Oregon USA based journalist, essayist and poet. She covers photography and photographers internationally.

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