Imagine being transported for one afternoon, to a dramatic, brilliantly colored, and heralded medievel pageant and ending the same day with a breathtaking, bareback horse race.
On the third Sunday of every year, Asti returns to its medievel past when the provincial city was a rich, international trading and banking center, governed by noble families and overlooked by hundreds of their towers.
Ancient documents record how, in the 13th century, groups of young horsemen raced against each other, down Asti’s main highway to claim a palio for their sponsors. The Palio, which has become synonymous with the race, is a banner, the most coveted prize, awarded to the village or quarter of the city whose horse wins the race at the end of the day. It is a symbol of power, which the winners proudly display for the following year.
The race itself is only the culmination of this unique event. Each of the 21 participating villages and city rione, chooses a theme of local historic significance to enact in the sprawling, colorful and vibrant procession.
Sunday is Palio day: in the morning a procession within each rione and village leads the faithful into their church for a Mass and to bless their horse. At around 2pm, the grand parade, led by the cavalry of the race Captain, begins in the piazza of Asti’s great gothic Catedrale and winds through the old town’s cobbled streets to end at the race grounds in Piazzza Alfieri.
Over 1.200 townspeople take part in the procession, and the elaborate costumes are handed down and prized. Throughout the day, the streets, and even the cafes and restaurants are filled with elegant dames in brocaded gowns, young princesses wearing jeweled headresses, spear carrying leather-clad soldiers, court jesters, and stately kings and queens by the dozen.
In the days leading up to Palio there are special markets, rione banquets (open to all) and on Saturday a procession for the children who will grow to become the Palio standard bearers of the coming generation.
During the year, there will be collateral events and a parade in May, exhibitions of the sbandiere (elite flag throwing squad), feasts and parties amongst the rione faithful and trials of horses.
Open to the public. Viewing the procession is free, but, attending the race requires a ticket (from 22 € to 88 €).
To book a ticket write to: [email protected]
Piazza Alfieri 14100 Asti AT
from 14 to 17 September 2017 (the Palio is held on 17 September )