Posts Tagged ‘Siena’

Don’t win at all costs..

August 5, 2015

Palio - Brendan Canty

Once again we found ourselves in Siena (one of the most beautiful cities on this earth) in Tuscany, Italy for the Palio (one of the best events I have ever been to) this summer.

The Palio is a bareback horse race, which happens at the beginning and the end of the summer. In truth it is a whole lot more than that and when you come to Siena to witness this incredible event you will know what I mean the minute you get here. You will sense it, you will feel it – there is something electric and tribal about it that will move you.

The Palio is essential to the Sienese. The city is divided into 17 districts (‘contrade’) and the Sienese place their loyalty to their district above church or state. Fierce rivalries exist between the neighbouring districts and all Sienese are united year round by their passion to win the Palio.

Palio - Siena

I took this text from a website about The Palio:

Imagine that all Liverpool and Everton fans had been baptised in the church of their team and lived as near neighbours their whole lives. Imagine that their neighbourhoods had been enemies for hundreds of years but only got to compete against each other once or twice a year. Imagine if the players and the ball were blessed in their churches before every match and the centre of the city came to a standstill for a week beforehand  – now you begin to understand the intense and passionate civic rivalry that animates the Palio

The Palio is a year-long strategic battle culminating in two annual events. Each and every Sienese is involved in the Palio in some way; the result of what may seem like ‘just a horse race’ is in fact glory or despair for those who live here. It has been this way since medieval times.

In the Palio, ten hired jockeys (each representing a Contrade or district) race bareback at breakneck speed around a dirt track, whipping each other in a game where anything goes as long as you win and the greatest disgrace is to come second. It’s not uncommon for many of the horses to lose their jockeys during the race – a horse without a rider can still win!  The Palio itself may be over in 90 seconds but the impact makes history”.

You can see that winning means everything to every man, woman and child in Siena who come out in force to cheer on and celebrate the fortunes of their jockey and horse.

However this is not as straight forward as it seems.

Palio - Siena

This year we spent some time with a local who explained to us that huge money goes into the Palio by each of the districts – this goes on wages for the jockeys and their training but it also goes on bribes and other shenanigans. It is now part of the ritual that the jockey might pay another competing jockey to ‘block‘ or interfere with one of their rival districts in exchange for a fee.

He told us that last year one of the jockeys did a ‘double backhanded deal‘ , which was discovered afterwards by his Contrade and as a result he ended up spending 3 months in hospital from a beating!

Palio - massimo-columbu-al-palio-di-siena

We enjoyed the few rehearsal days and then watched the final and as usual the race was over in 90 seconds. I was astounded to see one of the jockeys in front of 60,000 people and in the full glare of TV spend all of his energy wrestling another ‘rival’ jockey off his horse instead of concentrating on winning himself. In any other sport this would be automatic disqualification and a lifetime ban – with the Palio it just seems to be a normal part of the race.

The offending jockey had no interest in winning and all he wanted to do was to make sure that his rival did not win. Somehow the point of this race has been lost and yet it tells a huge truth, which we all see everyday.

With competitors when bitter rivalry sets in you need to be very careful because you might never win yourself.

Greg Canty 

Greg Canty is a Partner of Fuzion who offer Marketing, PR, Graphic Design services from our offices in Dublin and Cork, Irelan




The Palio and the Magic of being part of Something

July 7, 2013


About six years ago we wandered into the city of Siena in Tuscany while on holiday. To be honest we had no idea what to expect as we entered this gorgeous city with narrow cobble stone streets and old buildings with history in every brick and wooden door.

We noticed that many of the people wandering around the town were wearing scarves and it took a while to realise it was to do with a famous horse race and not a soccer match!

Palio march

Sitting in a cafe on one of these narrow streets doing our share of people watching and soaking up the atmosphere we started to hear some drumming and a crowd chanting …. this chant got louder and louder and a pattern emerged. You could hear males chanting this song, then women, then children and then everyone together and the magical sequence started again.

Louder and louder the chanting seemed to get closer to where we were sitting – eventually the group were led by some flag wavers and a horse with a trainer, followed by hundreds of men, then children and then women all continuously chanting.

The hairs stood up on the back of my neck and this was the moment I fell in love with Siena and the Palio.

Il Palio

Palio Race

The Palio di Siena (known locally simply as Il Palio) is a horse race that is held twice each year, on July 2 and August 16, in Siena, Italy. Ten horses and riders, bareback and dressed in the incredible colours, represent ten of the seventeen contrade, or city districts.

The race itself (after hours of pomp and ceremony, believe me!), in which the jockeys ride bareback, circles the Piazza del Campo, on which a thick layer of dirt has been laid, three times and usually lasts no more than 90 seconds. The race is frantic with jostling between jockeys who are often thrown off their horses while making the treacherous turns in the piazza. The winner is greeted by incredible celebrations from the supporters from that contrade.

This year was the forth time we have come to Siena for both the beautiful place (the city is beautiful and it is located in the middle of Tuscany and the Chianti wine growing region) and the festival and I wonder why do we keep coming back when there are so many other fabulous places to be discovered?

Palio March

Is it the pomp and the ceremony, is it the beautiful city or is it the excitement of the race?

This year I think I finally figured it out … All of the things that I have mentioned make Siena and the Palio very special and if you look at the pictures or the clips on YouTube you will get a sense of it.

What you won’t see online is the incredible sense of togetherness, community and belonging of the people that you will only witness when you experience the event for yourself.

They say in Siena you are baptised twice – once in Siena and then in your Contrade, which is your part of town. This is the part that means everything to you.

Palio meal

During the Palio practically every man, woman and child from each place comes out, participates in the blessing of the horse, the marching and the chanting. And every night (there are a few rehearsal days in advance of the “big” race) the groups get together in their part of town for a feast – you will see thousands of people all gathered, sharing food and drink proudly celebrating their colours and where they are from.

In most other countries the event would be commercialised and sponsored – in Siena it has and will always be untainted.

On the night of the Palio this year after the race was over we found ourselves walking in the middle of the crowd from a particular contrade who happened to be heading in the same direction – we listened to the chanting and we watched as people waved from the windows, even a nun was hanging out her window frantically waving her flag and cheering!

The hairs stood up on the back of my neck once again – I love Siena because for a moment you feel the power of community, you see people who are proud to march and show their colours, you feel part of something and sense the power of being together.

Do we have to go to Siena to feel like that?

Greg Canty is a Partner of Fuzion

Fuzion are a Marketing, PR and Design agency in Ireland with office in Cork and Dublin

The Last Day

July 11, 2011

Father & Son !

I didn’t check emails, I promise ..

For a whole week I managed to avoid emails, leave my phone turned off, avoid surfing the net except for some random tourist stuff and yes … I didn’t go near social media , well, except for one post about the holidays.

The week (yes, just one week) just flew and here we are back at the airport with some time to spare before flying home.

Before leaving it seemed like a herculean task just to get work out of the way so we could get away for the week and I am already planning an assault on the email traffic jam that awaits – over the weekend I will probably get through most of them.

Truthfully I didn’t really think about work and I know there was nothing that our crew couldn’t handle while we were away so I am really looking forward to another week later in the summer. It was great to chill out and let the brain preoccupy itself about what to do today, where to eat and what to see and of course keeping your wits about you on the Italian roads!

It always surprises me that when I let my brain chill out a little I start dreaming about weird things, strangely work related, but not current work but dreams about old jobs – what is that about?

Sitting at the airport I am sad, sad that the break is over and in particular that this time my son Brendan came with me and Dee – he finished college this year so he came with us for the first time in many years, which could be the last time for many years as well – I know that, which has made the week extra special.

Greg & Dee

Greg & Dee - in Florence!

Convertible at the airport, fabulous old rustic hotel high in the hills in a Tuscan hamlet outside Siena, the famous Palio horse race in Siena, next hotel (too modern and souless) in a town called Pistoia, visit to the beautiful town Lucca, incredible steak dinner, sunbathing (me under an umbrella!), visit to the incredibly beautiful town San Gimigmano, a tour of the Chianti region with some wine tasting in the Melini winery, Max Gazze and his band do a double Pink Floyd set of “Live at Pompeii” and “Dark Side of the Moon” – incredible, part of the Pistoia Music Festival, visit to beautiful Florence after some manic traffic and a welcome dip in the pool at the hotel, drinks in the busy and very lively square in Pistoia, some people watching and the last supper, scenic drive by the coast and a visit to the very sleepy town of Grosseto and ….. here I am, airport boarding area.

As sure as night follows day another holiday has come and gone and before we know it we will be back at work pumping it out again – better book that next break before we forget.

If you haven’t been away yet, enjoy …. If you have, think about the next one!


Greg Canty is a partner of Fuzion