The crowds began to gather quite early in the afternoon for the Palio dei Somari…the donkey race. Festivities were not to commence until 4.00pm, but the seats in the stands filled quickly and early. I went an hour early thinking that would be plenty of time, but was lucky to get a seat. As it turned out I didn’t have it for long. I stood up to watch the entry of the entourage and the others in my row spread out and my seat disappeared. It didn’t really matter as everyone was soon on their feet so as not to miss anything.
You might be surprised to hear that the event began with some ceremony. The sbandieratori and tamburini were back with the rest of the troops. They walked the length of the track and gathered in the area in the centre. The enthusiastic crowd welcomed them.
The master of ceremonies welcomed everyone and the donkeys arrived with their escorts.
The first award was announced. The blue team Refenero won something, but I couldn’t understand what it was. The cheers were fairly subdued, so it clearly wasn’t one of the main ones.
Children from each contrade came on stage and there was a draw to select a donkey for each team. The donkeys, with names including Malda and Veronica, were given a rosette in the colours of the contrade to wear. They seemed unconcerned.
There were 4 heats with 2 donkeys and riders in each. The winner would be the first to complete 3 laps. The donkeys and riders arrived at the starting line. The riders were patted down, to check for…I don’t know what.
They were off! In a way…a donkey race is not much like a horse race where the horses usually move in one direction quite quickly. Donkeys do their own thing. They trot forwards for a while, stop, turn around and perhaps even walk backwards. I wanted to laugh, but I noticed that nobody else was. This is a serious business.
The 4 losers of the first heats came back for a second chance. Once again they completed 3 laps.
There was a break where the groups from the contrade returned and the winners of the award for best tamburini and sbandieratori were announced. The professional team were called in to present the trophies.
Porto Pago (the red and green team) won best tamburini to much excitement.
Cavone, the green team won best sbandieratori. I wasn’t surprised, they were spectacular, in every way. There was much cheering, kissing and jumping up and down.
Time for the race final. This time 5 donkeys and their riders lined up. The winner would be the first to complete 4 laps of the circuit.
The rider from Gavone fell of at the end of the first round. He had to stand and watch his donkey run off by herself.
The race continued with the usual donkey antics with the riderless donkey in the lead.
She went on to win, it seems the rider is not needed to win the race…a little surprise, and a second win for Gavone.
The crowd erupted and everyone from the contrade moved in to join the excitement.
This event is one of the most fun things I have attended in Italy. It was very well run, all information was excellent, but most of all I am impressed by how Italians (I heard no foreign accents all weekend) behave at these events. There is no alcohol, no bad behaviour, everyone just joins in and has a great time. The ticket to the actual race was €8, everything else was free.
I will be back next year to see it all again and I will try to stay again at Casa dei Fiori. It was the perfect place to be.