Posted by: Debra Kolkka | March 24, 2016

The donkeys appear

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.

Palio dei Somari

The master of ceremonies welcomed everyone and the donkeys arrived with their escorts.

Palio dei Somari

Palio dei Somari

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.

Palio dei Somari

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.

Palio dei Somari

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.

Palio dei Somari

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.

Palio dei Somari

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.


Palio dei Somari

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.

Palio dei Somari

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.

Palio dei Somari

The crowd erupted and everyone from the contrade moved in to join the excitement.

Palio dei Somari

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.



  1. I wonder if the donkeys get blessed by the priest in each local contrada before the race. In that other famous Palio in Siena, if the horses defecate in the church prior to the big event, it is a good onen.
    This palio sounds far more civilized and low key – might meet you there.

    • I’m sure there was a blessing of some kind before the event, but I didn’t see it. I intend to go again next year…see you there.

  2. Sounds and looks like a wonderful thing to do – such pageantry and spectacle and while everyone has such a fun time. Hope the darling donkeys enjoyed being there too. They sure appear to be well loved and cared for.

    • The donkeys were in excellent condition and seemed to take the proceedings in their stride.

  3. Is it the same time every year? I would love to be there. I think the one who “fell” off might have realised the donkey was better off without him! The donkeys are beautiful.

    • I think it is the first Sunday after St Joseph’s day each year. The riders do their best to stay on, but the donkeys have their own ideas. Come on over next year.

  4. What a great event to watch! Thank you for shharing it with us.

    • It is a fabulous event. The organisers do an amazing job…perhaps they should take over the post offices.

  5. Can you imagine Australian men dressing up like that – not to mention going without grog? It’s a different world.

    • No, I can’t. It obviously starts early. The children played their parts perfectly. It was a long time for them to be standing around not doing much.

  6. Might join you next year. Good excuse to get away from hot Qld.

  7. Looks very exciting…the crowd seems enthralled.

    • Everyone joined in the spirit of the day.

  8. Looks very entertaining! Donkeys are so funny, they certainly have minds of their own. All the costumes look very well made, obviously a lot of time and effort goes into this. It’s sad really that in the UK it’s rare now to see anything in a small town that has that amount of planning and commitment.

    • The donkeys were a hoot. The costumes were brilliant, such a lot of work must have gone into them.

  9. A wonderful, funny, very personal account of yet another ‘only in Italy’ event. I was with you when you said you wanted to laugh out loud. On the other hand, the outstanding crowd behaviour you report and simply the looks in the faces of the young winners makes me proud. Brava Deb. A Stella post!

    • I think laughing may have embarrassed some of the riders who were doing their best with animals with minds of their own. I loved the whole weekend. I hope you join me next year.

      • 😉👌🏼

  10. What an awesome event, I would love to witness something like this! Thank you for sharing your experience with us, and for the awesome pictures to go along with it!

    • I really recommend this fabulous event. I will be back for sure.

  11. How fun. I particularly notice how different the behaviour is with Italians at events compared to Aussies. Wonderful. Those young men in green sure are nice to look at.

    • The green men were gorgeous. I found that I had quite a lot of photos of them when I looked through what I had taken.

  12. It’s always good when people can behave themselves at events. It makes it much more pleasant to be there.

    • The crowd was great. Everyone joined in for a great day.

  13. I laughed even just reading it. I would totally do so in person. 😀
    I think the riderless win is a little off.
    They did a donkey race on The Amazing Race when they went to Italy. I wonder if this is the same place. Maybe, maybe not. Are donkey race competitions all over Italy?

    • I don’t know if this is the only donkey race. It is certainly the only one I have been to.

  14. I think donkeys are just adorable. I can’t imagine racing them, though.

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