Fire! (Or shoot) – or Sing!

The Italian word “Palio” can have a multiplicity of meanings. For example: reward, prize banner, stake, wager or bid. These are all words to do with some form of contest or competition.

Mentioned alone the “Palio” naturally refers to that famous, tongue-biting, riot-provoking horse race run twice annually in Siena’s Campo. We’ve been to it on a number of occasions but have, despite its rich pageantry, electric atmosphere and unique setting, given it a miss for some years. The thought of being stuck in the centre of a large piazza for hours under a baking sun before anything starts happening and just when the water bottle runs out is too much for us to take now.

There are anyway lots of other great Palii in Italy, including horse racing, quatrain tilting, crossbow shooting, even box-cart racing in many towns throughout the summer.

Just see the list here to find out what’s on in the way of Palii in Italy this summer and beyond:

Bagni Di Lucca’s crossbow Palio took up most of yesterday’s longest day and it was well attended by costumed archers, competition judges, drummers, renaissance women and two very loud cannons, one muzzle loaded and one breech-loaded.

The venue was originally advertised as the Contessa Casalini gardens, now emerging with new plants to replace the giant specimens knocked down in March’s storm.

I was lucky enough to see what the inside of the park’s water tower looks like. There’s a fine spiral staircase inside it leading to a loggia:

The actual shooting had to be changed, for health and safety reasons, to a corner of the ex- Svizzero hotel gardens on the north side. This once well-known hotel has now been closed for some years because of the usual succession disagreements. The place was once Alexandre Dumas senior’s summer vacation residence. It’s said that the front door had to be widened in order to admit his ever more corpulent bulk.


Since Dumas was famous for swashbuckling historical romances like “The Three Musketeers” there was a certain fittingness in holding the event there.

However, it was badly signaged and what was really lacking in Bagni’s Palio was the audience itself. This was unfortunate as a lot more could have been added to the event if people watched it. The Sunday afternoon weather was quite superb so there was little excuse for not being there. Was everyone at the seaside, I wonder…?

The targets were named after the animals they represented, the fox, the deer, the squirrel etc. Points were scored on the basis of which areas were hit within the target. I thought the squirrel was rather unfairly treated. I believe the Ghivizzano team won in the end.

I do hope next year’s event will be better attended and that the hard-working archers and their friends will get the audience they deserve. I can think of more memorable past palii di balestra (crossbow) in Bagni, particularly that one described by Debra Kolkka at

Certainly, when I watched, on my dongled internet TV, the finale of the Cardiff Singer of the World competition later that evening, won by superb Belarus soprano Nadine Koutcher, I realized again how important an enthusiastic audience is in public events. The way the lovely singer crumbled to her knees backstage when the announcement that she had won was announced by Kiri I’ll never forget. Wasn’t it wonderful (those of you who watched it?)!

Now that was a Palio and a half!

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9 thoughts on “Fire! (Or shoot) – or Sing!

  1. It is wrong that this event is not better publicised. I have been for the last few years and have found it disappointing that so few people turn up. What is wrong with the residents of BdL? There were signs up and they must know it is on.

  2. Pingback: Arrows fly in Bagni di Lucca | Bella Bagni di Lucca

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