Queer Racing in Southern Italy: Events Which Are Run as They Were Four Hundred Years Ago, Daily Racing Form, 1907-09-25


view raw text

QUEER RACING IN SOUTHERN ITALY Events Which Are Run as They Were Four Hundred Years Ago. Rome, September 3. In no other country are ancient usages and customs so well cherished as in Italy. The life of the Middle Ages could be described from observation and study of present day Institutions. Tims the Pallo races in Siena on July 2 and August 10 have retained the character they had when instituted in 1050. The origin of these races could be traced back to ancient Roman times. Before they were instituted in Siena, the annual races were run by .buffaloes ridden by jockeys, which contests supplanted bull fights iu 1599, when, to quote a writer of the time, "the habits of the people began to become more gentle." Palio Is derived from pallium and refers to a banner awarded to the winning horse. The ten horses that run the race each represent a contrada or ward of the- city. Originally the city was divided into sixty wards, each characterized by a special name, generally that of some animal or natural object, and each having its own church and patron saint, as well as its special banners, emblems and colors. After the plague of 134S the wards were reduced to forty-two, and subsequently the Medici reduced the number to twenty-three. In 1075 six contrade were suppressed for bad conduct and thus only seventeen ace now left. Ten wards are selected by lot to run the Palio. The horses are assigned by lot to the wards a week before the race takes place. The following are the names of the wards: Tortoise, Wood, Snail, Panther and Eagle of the first division; Boar, Tower, Caterpillar, Owl, Bull and Unicorn of the second; and Dragon, Goose, Wolf, Giraffe, Fox and Deer of the third. Although only ten wards compete for the race, all take part in the preliminary parade, and two doy beforehand the banners of ail cveuten are taken to the cathedral, where they are hung till the time for using them comes. The patron .saint of each ward plays an important part during the races, as although the races are run in honor of the Virgin to whom the Sienese have from time, immemorial dedicated themselves, still the people of the winning ward ascribe the victory to the power of their protecting saint. In fact on the day preceding the race two pages from each contrada, dressed in mediaeval costume, .carry a huge basket of artificial flowers to the church of their saint and after the races, are, oyer the winning horse is escorted by his contrada to the church, into which he is carried for benediction. There Is a deep rooted Jealousy between the different contrade which has outlived the old divisions of party and even at present leads to scenes of violence arid bloodshed. The Jockeys are professionals and they, like the horses, are assigned by lot to the wards. The means adopted to secure the prize are often ..most unscrupulous. Every possible attempt is made to currupt or buy up the jockey. Sometimes two contrade are so jealous of a third that they agree to prevent its winning; even if they have to renounce the prize themselves. The horses are ridden without saddles and each of the jockeys is armed with a thick whip called nerbo, with which by the old rules of the race still in force, he can, if he chooses, not only cut his companions across the face or beat back their horses and thus prevent them froni winning, but also knock them off their horses. It is not uncommon for fierce fights to take place between the riders, several of whom may be beaten off their horses. As the race draws near the close the losing parties- often attack each other violently and use every means in their power to drag arid beat back the winning horse, so that in most cases the race degenerates Into a fight. Since 1719 the whips used by the jockeys are distributed by the police at the time of the race in order to prevent the use of certain long whins which were such formidable weapons that they could easily be used to knock off the jockeys from their horses, with great danger to their lives. Except for this change the rules of the races have never been altered, and thev are practically the same as they were about 300 vears ago. The race takes place in the Piazza del Camno, which is semicircular in share and resmbles a cockle shell, sloping gently from the curving rim toward the strahjhj side, in the center of which stands the Municipal Palace. This piazza is stone paved and quite unadapted for a race course owing to its unevenness. sudden curves and steep descents. At the most dangerous points mattresses are laid to break the fall of horse or rider, for the race is seldom run without accidents, but there is a tradition that the irgiu will not allow a rider to be killed outright during the race, and in fact onlv one jockey Is known to have been killed, Osti Pad in 1719, after which the number or horses was restricted to ten by a civic decree. The niazza is richly decorated on the day of the races. The pavement is strewn witli yellow sand, tiers of seats are built around the lower stories K the buildings and draped with cloth, and temporary wooden barriers are erected around its boundary, thus forniini: the race course. From every window and balcony rich draperies of every fabric and color are hung, while flags float from every building. Needless to say the whole piazza Is crowded, and it looks as if paved with faces. After a long wait under the broiling mid-summer sun, which, however, does not seem to have any effect on the natural cheerfulness of the crowd, the course Is cleared and the parade of the contrada enters, while the bands burst forth into music l irst come the seven representatives of the contrada that do not take part in the race. They are all dressed in mediaeval costumes, rich In color and texture. A drummer beating wildly on his drum marches in front and behind him come several members of the contrada with the banner and emblems of their district. The other contrade follow. Besides their drummers each lias two standard bearers, who wave their flags backward and forward, fling them high up in the air. catch them as they fall, twist them around their bodies and execute all sorts of tricks with wonderful skill and grace. Four officers and the captain of the contrada. attended by two pages all in ancient costumes, bring up the rear. Then accompanied by his groom, comes the running horse decorated witli flowers, richly caparisoned and with his hoofs covered witli gold leaf and immediately following him comes the jockey or fante, ridin" another horse and wearing a plumed helmet and a particolored dress with the arms of the contrada on his back. As each contrada passes It is saluted with loud cries. Meanwhile the drums are all beatin" together, bands playing, people shouting and cheering multi-colored flags waving. All this noise and color in a space enclosed with old medieval palaces and filled with a modern but Italian and hence excited crowd that carries one back out of the present century into the Middle Ages. The illusion Is rendered complete when drawn by six. horses and surrounded by men in armor the great Caroccio with a tall pillar In the center ; surmounted by a bell and with the flags of the contrade grouped on it slowly rolls by at the end I of the procession. The Caroccio is the old war chariot of the Siena and the most characteristic i feature of the whole show. It Is a relic of medieval warfare invented by the Milanese nnd originally intended to bear the flag of the city In battle In fact, even today It carries the black and white colors of Siena. The object of this war chariot in the Middle Ages was to give solidity to the charges of the army in the field, and it was a point of honor to defend it to the last. The Carroccio always accompanied the army, and wherever it stopped was the place of battle. The bell served to give I the signal for attack or retreat or to call the council. The direction of the car was generally given"to the most expert in tactics and the art of war and he became is captain. He was accompanied by eight trumpeters and a priest who said mass and shrived the dying during battle. The Carroccio originally used in the Siena races was taken from the Florentines in the battle of Monte Aperlo fought in 1200, when the Sienese I who numbered only 1,100 against 40.000 Florentines killed 10,000 of the latter. The Caroccio now in use was made after the old model. After the processions slow parade around, the ring the representatives of the contrade take their seats in a special section reserved for them, and the race begins. The jockeys take off their helmets and put on caps of the color of the contrade. The police distribute the whips, a gun is fired, the rope ! falls ,and the horses shoot forward amid a thunderous uproar. A lively struggle is then seen among the riders. They strike one another fiercely, they grapple together, and strive to force their adversaries horses back. Meanwhile the people, wildly excited, jump and scream, some hiss and hoot, while others applaud. At almost every turn of the course the race Is three turns around the piazza some jockey is flung headlong against the padded mattresses. Others are dragged off their horses by sheer force, but generally these succeed in catching their adversarys bridle and spoil his race as well. Sometimes a horse or two, riderless and maddened by the tumult, will break away, and, dealing the barrier, rush through the excited crowd within, creating a panic and increasing the confusion and uproar. As the successful horse nears the goal the people of his contrada go wild. After the race the crowd rushes over the course, and runs toward the winner, the majority to veiit their anger on him, the others, those of his contrada, to protect him. He is surrounded, lifted off his horse, embraced, hugged and kissed until he Is almost suffocated. The police generally rescue him both from his friends and enemies. After a while both the winning jockey and horse are escorted bv the people of their contrada to the post, where the prize, or palio, is awarded and the horse is borne away in triumph to church, where the banner just won is blessed. For weeks after the race the festivities of the successful contrada continue. The horse is paraded through the streets with music, he is brought upstairs to the second story of the Palazzo Chlgi and exhibited from the balcony to crowds of admiring and applauding spectators below, and finally banquets are given In the open streets and the horse Is invited and occupies the head of a long table with a fine full manger before him. Such are the races of the palio at. Siena today and sucli have they been for hundreds of yeats gone by.

Persistent Link: https://drf.uky.edu/catalog/1900s/drf1907092501/drf1907092501_2_4
Local Identifier: drf1907092501_2_4
Library of Congress Record: https://lccn.loc.gov/unk82075800