The History of the Fucecchio Palio

Il CencioIn Fucecchio, horse racing is an age-old tradition. Since around the year 1200 there has been a “Contesa di cavalli” and in the mid-18th century many equestrian tournaments and jousting competitions took place. The most important Palio was that called “della Lancia”, which attracted horsemen who arrived in Fucecchio to compete in the Jousting tournaments that took place inside the Castle.

According to documents found in the local archives, the first Palio took place on June 14, 1863, after which there seem to have been no further competitions until 1980. The Fratres di Fucecchio Blood Donors Group, in order to promote their association, welcomed an idea proposed by Francesco Ghimenti to organise a pony race that took place along via Carducci.

In 1981, the Fratres decided to improve on the previous year and, by involving local residents who were either experts in horses or simply enthusiasts, they went about restoring the Palio. It would no longer be a jousting tournament (for obvious organisational reasons), but rather a saddled horse race, with contestants consisting of teams formed from having divided the city into Contrade – or quarters – and the organisation of a historic parade. The late Tommaso Cardini, President of the Fratres, assigned Attorney Adriano Lotti the task of defining the limits of the Contrade, attributing colours and coats-of-arms to each one. Then on the second Sunday in June 1981, the first Palio organised by the Fratres di Fucecchio Blood Donors took place in the Buca d’Andrea with the 13 Contrade who had agreed to participate (the number of contrade was actually 15, but Galleno and Le Pinete did not accept the invitation).

The Contrade

  • Borgonovo

  • Le Botteghe

  • Cappiano

  • La Ferruzza

  • Massarella

  • Porta Bernarda

  • Porta Raimonda

  • La Querciola

  • Querce

  • Samo

  • Sant’Andrea

  • San Pierino

  • La Torre

For the following Palio the Contrade numbered 12, because Querce also withdrew.

La PartenzaIn 1986, Luigi Cardini, a nephew of Tommaso, took over the organisation. Over the following years, the Palio became bigger and more important, eventually attracting even famous jockeys from the Palio di Siena and involving an increasing number of people from each Contrada. The future of the Palio changed dramatically when the decision was made to eliminate the saddles. At that time, and for many years to come, the horses were purebreds and the Palio was ran bareback. The growth of the event was enormous and, during the 1990s, the Fratres asked the City of Fucecchio and the twelve Contrade to participate in the organisation of the Palio until 1990, when they officially handed over the responsibility and organisation of the Palio to the “Associazione Palio delle Contrade Città di Fucecchio”.

The Palio continued to spawn enthusiasm and interest, playing a primary role in the life of Fucecchio residents, while the Historic Parade (or Corteo) also made a major contribution to its success with its 1000 participants decked out in medieval costumes.

The race is the main event of the Palio. All the best jockeys from the Palio di Siena have raced in the “Buca” to win the coveted “Cencio”, the prize painted each year by an artist selected by the organisation. For the past decade the race has been scheduled for the next to the last Sunday in May, but “Palio Week” begins on the Tuesday evening before with the unveiling of the Cencio in Piazza Vittorio Veneto in the presence of the Mayor, the President of the Palio Association, the artist who painted it, all the Contrade represented by the President, the groups of Musicians and Flag Flyers and Flag and Coat-of-Arms bearers.

La TrattaThe next evening, following the final qualification trials in the “Buca” with the selection of the horses made by the Contrada Captains, the “tratta” – or drawing of lots – takes place in the Piazza del Comune in front of everyone from the Contrade to assign the horses (all half-breeds) to the Contrade. This has taken place since the year 2000, while previously each Contrada entered the Palio presenting both jockey and horse. The Tratta for assigning the horse is a crucial event for the Contrada, because the outcome of the Palio for each Contrada is often decided here. For this reason, everyone hopes and prays that their Fortunello will bring them the luck of the draw for a good horse and that their “enemy” will draw a “brocco” – or old nag. After the drawing, each Contrada brings their horse to their own stables amidst singing and jubilation. Then the frantic discussion begins to choose the “monte”, or jockey. This decision may take all night, but up to the eve of the Palio the jockey may be changed.

The trial runs are held on Thursday and Friday, at 6pm in the Buca d’Andrea, the “Provacce“. These are races that emulate the Palio in its entirety, with horses galloping amidst the cane thickets and a run-up to put both horses and jockeys to the test, helping to decide what steps should be taken in order to gain a further competitive edge. Each evening, following the “Provaccia”, the Contrada residents meet for the “cenino” – or supper.

The magical Eve of the Palio arrives on Saturday, beginning in the morning with the ceremony of the Presentation of the Jockeys, who are officially registered for the Palio by their Contrade. The jockeys are then escorted by the Contrada Captain, the Flag Bearer and Emblem bearers of each Contrada in a jubilation of drum rolls and Flag Flyers.

During the afternoon, each Contrada celebrates the Blessing of the horse, the emblems and jockey in their own Church and, in the evening, all the Contrade organise a Palio Eve Dinner in the streets and squares in front of their own organisational centre. This is a unique and exciting spectacle, with long tables packed with diners and decked out with the official colours in a magical atmosphere where everyone sings and invokes Victory to cheer on their jockey. The evening continues until the wee hours of the morning, with song, dance and plenty of talk about the Palio.

La SfilataSunday morning begins at 9 o’clock with the Historic Parade, featuring some 1000 participants in medieval garb recreated in every detail by the seamstresses of the Contrada. This parade also serves to manifest all the Cenci – or prize trophies – previously won by the Contrade, which are displayed outside of the Contrada offices only on this occasion.

The Parade ends in the historic Piazza Grande, now called Piazza Vittorio Veneto, where the stairway of the Collegiata is the stage for celebrating the Blessing of the People, during which the Mayor entrusts the Cencio to the Captain of the People, who must watch over it until the moment it is awarded to the winning Contrada in the “Buca”.

The Contrade withdraw to their own offices for the final preparations and for a lunch where singing and cheering take place to encourage victory.

Finally the grand moment has arrived. At 3 o’clock, the Contrade bring their horses and jockeys to the “Buca”, which is already surrounded and teeming with spectators bearing their Contrada colours, like a splendid palette divided by sectors. The singing and cheering is deafening, but absolute silence falls when the names of the Contrade are drawn for the two semi-finals with 6 horses each.

The crowd then awaits the results of the two races: the four horses that arrive first in each semi-final will run in the final. All eyes are now on the Mossiere – or starter – and the hemp ropes between which the horses are lined up. One horse remains outside the ropes and is allowed a running start, a choice that may determine the outcome of the race. When this horse enters it means the start of the race if the Starter judges the move to be “bona” – or fair according to regulations.

La CorsaThe race is extremely quick, consisting of only two laps. But for the Contradas it seems endless. Once finished, the track is invaded by the uncontrollable joy of the winning Contrada.

These are unforgettable moments for those involved, a race towards the coveted Cencio – which represents Victory.

This is the Palio of the Contrade in the City of Fucecchio. We can try to understand, but only by experiencing it first hand can we truly feel and appreciate what it represents, because words cannot truly express the passions, joys, and disappointments, as well as the sacred and profane elements that are the essence of the Palio.

Mappa di Fucecchio

The Winners

Anni Vincitore Fantino Cavalli
1981 Ferruzza Luca Scardigli Vola Vola
1982 Querciola Sergio Castaldo Terremoto
1983 Borgonovo Alberto Antinori Vipera Bionda
1984 Cappiano Renato Gigliotti Marta
1985 Botteghe Vittorio Ceciarelli Zar
1986 Borgonovo Fabrizio “Ungheria” Swam
1987 Sant’Andrea Maurizio Farnetani “Bucefalo” La Scodata
1988 Borgonovo Vincenzo Foglia “Il Foglia” Conte Violet
1989 Porta Bernarda Andrea de Gortes “Aceto” Stukis
1990 Botteghe Dario Colagè “Bufera” Pomponia
1991 Sant’Andrea Angelo de Pau “Il Nanu” Ulita Days
1992 Porta Bernarda Angelo de Pau “Il Nanu” Ulita Days
1993 Porta Bernarda Salvatore Ladu “Cianchino” Cotton on Quick
1994 Querciola Giuseppe Pes “Il Pesse” Grand Prix
1995 Borgonovo Massimo Donatini Mighty Dragon
1996 Porta Raimonda Giuseppe Pes “Il Pesse” Filippope
1997 Querciola Angelo de Pau “Il Nanu” Jalmond The Best
1998 Massarella Massimo Coghe “Massimino” Golden Lucky
1999 Porta Raimonda Giuseppe Pes “Il Pesse” Butch Cassidy
2000 Massarella Gian Luigi Mureddu “Pollicino” Shakuntala
2000 Straordinario: Porta Bernarda Salvatore Ladu “Cianchino” Bandito
2001 Finale non disputata
2002 Porta Bernarda Dino Pes “Velluto” Mowgly
2003 Massarella Claudio Bandini “Batticuore” Ombre Rosse
2004 Massarella Claudio Bandini “Batticuore” Elisir Logudoro
2005 San Pierino Giovanni Atzeni “Tittìa” Fidels
2005 Straordinario Porta Bernarda: Virginio Zedde detto “Lo Zedde” Ellison
2006 San Pierino Antonio Villella “Sgaibarre” Falco Doglia
2007 San Pierino Alberto Ricceri “Salasso” Grein
2008 Porta Bernarda Silvano Mulas “Voglia” Igor de Mores
2009 Sant’Andrea Alberto Ricceri “Salasso” Mississippi
2010 San Pierino Virginio Zedde “Lo Zedde” Melantò de Aighenta
2011 Samo Simone Mereu Narcisco
2012 Sant’Andrea Giuseppe Zedde “Gingillo” Nanneddu
2013 Torre Walter Pusceddu Ninos
2014 Querciola Simone Mereu Bomario da Clodia
2015 Querciola Simone Mereu Tavel Puntadour