From Saturday 17th March, until Sunday 25th, the beautiful old village of Torrita di Siena is hosting its renowned Palio dei Somari, the Donkey Palio. Born in 1966, this Palio was created to celebrate the Patron Saint, St. Joseph the Carpenter. In consideration of this fact the population decided to celebrate both hard work and simplicity and for this reason chose donkeys to symbolize them.
Eight contradas are competing for the Palio, as by tradition a painted cloth, in this case depicting St. Joseph. These quarters are Porta a Pago, Porta a Sole, Porta Gavina, Porta Nova, Le Fonti, Stazione, Refenero and Cavone. All with their colours, coats of arms and walk-ons performing as 15th century villagers: ladies, Princes, knights, standard bearers, flag wavers and drummers.
Starting Saturday with the Medieval Market of Nencia, the celebrations continue with the opening of the photographic exhibition “Weapons, Armed and Knights” and the drawing of the parade order among the contradas. By 5.30 pm matters heat up with the ‘inns’ and food stalls opening and shows and music being played around the village. Sunday is considered a holiday with the flag wavers and drummers’ parade, whereas during the week it will be possible to taste local dishes in the ‘inns’, admire buskers and medieval companies and maybe catch the flag wavers and drummers practising.
Saturday 24th will again see walk-ons around the village in their lovely medieval clothes, as well as the flag waving and drumming competition among the contradas. Finally Sunday 25th March, following the pageant and flag waving and drumming show, visitors are lead, with the jockeys, to the ‘race course’ (actually the town’s car park) where the Palio will be run at 4 pm.
In the general uproar of the public the real protagonists of this event stand silent, waiting patiently and ignoring the surroundings, possibly munching away on straw. At this point the drawing donkey-contrada has place. Breaths are held in anticipation. Forecasts impossible. Donkeys have a notorious reputation for stubbornness, but actually, they are only cautious. Once a person has earned their confidence they are willing and very dependable. The problem at the Palio is they don’t know their riders and can quite unpredictably run three rounds and suddenly stop a few metres from the finishing line. However, as the proud owner of five lovely donkeys, I can certainly affirm that these intelligent, friendly and above all playful animals, notwithstanding their whims, will definitely turn the event into a special day.