Photo Essays: Siena Palio
The Palio of Siena is a tradition with medieval origins dating back to the fourteenth century. Contrade, or neighborhoods, of the medieval city Siena compete on two occasions each summer in this historic horse race within the Piazza del Campo. The race itself is the dramatic climax of months of preparations that culminate in the intense emotions and traditional pageantry of the days preceding the race. Despite the seemingly contrived nature of the event with its medieval facade, the residents and supporters of each contrada are faithful to their colors, elders, and traditions with a fierce passion and loyalty that brings to the surface a truly contemporary human component.
I attended the second Palio of 2009, the Palio dell'Assunta in honor of the Assumption of Mary, with aspirations to capture the purity and essence of the emotional connection that the Sienese bring to this historic event. I embraced the challenge to photograph the proceedings as an outsider without personal connection to the events unfolding before me, while learning about the subtle details in real time as a photojournalist. The greatest challenge was to go beyond the thousands of tourists also taking photos, to explore beneath the surface and uncover some sense of what the Palio truly means to the locals who participate in the events year after year.