The Palio of Palestrina is an event held in mid-August in the small town of Palestrina, a few kilometers from Rome. It is one of the best organized and most fun celebrations in the area. The thousands of visitors who attend each year have the opportunity to merge deeply with one of the most beautiful traditions of the Roman countryside. Let’s find out.
The Palio di Palestrina has its roots in the various games, which were organized in the medieval period, on the occasion of very important events. However, some documents deposited in the Vatican archives tell of the existence of a Palio in Palestrina, to celebrate the visit of Pope Innocent III, dating back to the early 200 AD.
Around 1500, in Palestrina, a Lazio town in the province of Rome, there were three Palios, one of which was organized in honor of San Giordano, another was dedicated to San Martino and the last one was planned for Sant’Agapito. In 1870 an important historical event took place, namely the annexation of the Papal State to the Kingdom of Italy. Following this event, all the palio races were abolished. Subsequently, however, in the first years of the 1900’s, these manifestations were re-established.
The Palio di Palestrina or the Palio di Sant’Agapito
When we talk about the Palestrina Palio, therefore, we refer to what takes place every year in the month of August, and which is dedicated to the Patron Saint Agapito. For this reason it is also known as Palio di Sant’Agapito.
The first edition of this event, which in its current form consists of various processions and games, dates back to 1978. During the event in question the four most famous neighborhoods of Palestrina meet, which are Porta San Biagio, Porta San Martino, Porta San Cesareo and Porta San Giacomo. Who wins the race, wins the Palio, which is the emblem of the town and depiction of St. Agapito.
The Palestrina Palio involves all the inhabitants of this town in the Roman countryside, which in the days of mid-August are involved in organizing the various challenges and in creating traditional costumes, which the various participants don.
The Ball Game
The Palestrina Palio begins with a ball game, il Gioco della Palla, in which the representatives of the four neighbourhoods in town compete in a sort of medieval soccer competition on the cobblestone streets of Piazza Regina Margherita. It is avery difficult game to play, in which there are often physical limitations. The winning team is the one that makes the most amount of goals with the ball.
The Giostra della Scifa
Another game, which is played in this annual event, is that of the Giostra della Scifa. In this game, the riders of different teams must race with their horses and while attempting to spear a ring. The ring is attached high in the air to a wooden frame, which is called the scifa. It seems that this game’s origin derives from the games with horses in the pre-Roman era, in which the representatives of the various “collegia” clashed to conquer the skifos, which was a receptacle made of a metal of great value.
Other Medieval Games of the Palio di Palestrina
The Palestrina Palio also consists of other competitions, such as archery and tug of war. Then there is the race where girls have to run along a predetermined path with a copper basin on their heads, full of water.
The Challenge of the Spindle
Lastly, there is the challenge of the Spindle, where the participants have the task of spinning a skein of wool and the one who makes the longest thread wins.
Eat and Drink during the Palestrina Palio
In this event, you have the opportunity to eat in some historic outdoor eateries, or taverne, and do not miss the flag-throwers and the Fussen bombers, who kick off the Palio.
In short, the Palestrina Palio is a fascinating event in which you are catapulted into the Middle Ages and are emotionally involved in rooting for the various teams. On top of all this, the numerous open air eateries allow you to taste typical local products, for a 360 degree sensorial experience.
Save the date on your calendar for 3 unforgettable days in mid-August.