Palio and its history

ASTI AND ITS HISTORY

The founding of the Roman settlement of Hasta, mentioned by Pliny as one of the most important Roman towns in the ancient Liguria region, dates from 125 and 123 BC.

After the period of the Roman Empire, it became the residence of the bishop and is mentioned as an important Longobard Duchy and the town where a major Court of Justice was held. Made into a County under the Franks, later governed by the bishops, the town flourished towards the end of the 11th century becoming, for a brief period, the most important free cities of Piedmont. In the 12th century it became one of the richest and most powerful cities in Italy, it was granted the right

to mint coins and it engaged in busy trade with France, Flanders, Germany, England and with a lot of European countries. In 1387, the city was  handed to the Visconti, then to the Orleans and finally to the Savoy (1531). Following the Unification of Italy, the fortunes of the city mirrored those of the newly-formed nation, and events there followed those of Italy. Characterised since the 12th century by a lively economy, with profitable trade and dealings with other cities, even if often divided by the feuds between opposing noble families, Asti has retained a pleasant medieval atmosphere, with towers, noble residences and fortifi ed houses. The population of Asti is now 76.419, and its patron saint is St. Secundus, whose feast day is the first Tuesday in May.

THE PALIO

The first written record of the race dates from 1275, the year in which, according to the Asti

chronicler Guglielmo Ventura, the people of Asti held the Palio, for spite, beneath the walls of

the enemy city of Alba, causing damage and destruction to the vineyards. The race now involves

twenty-one competitors who in the preceding days strenuously seek to propitiate victory with gargantuan dinners, rituals to ward off ill-luck and salacious practical jokes against the rivals, up to

the last exciting encounter on the race course, preceded by a magnificent procession, featuring over

one thousand two hundred people in medieval costume. The track, specially prepared in the very

central Piazza Alfieri, is 450 metres long: the race, on horses ridden bareback, takes place

in three heats featuring seven horses each, while the final is between nine horses. In both the heats

and the final, the horses run around the track three times. The start is given by the “mossiere” who

unhooks the “canapo”, a thick rope stretching from one side of the track to the other.

From 2018 the Palio of Asti will take place the first Sunday of September

THE PRIZES

For 1st place: the Palio banner,

for 2018 it has been painted by the Asti painter Antonio Guarene

For 2nd place: a bag of silver coins

For 3rd place: silver spurs

For 4th place: a live rooster

For 5th place: the cockade

For the last competitor to arrive: the inchioda (anchovy) with salad

THE BANNER

The Palio, the large crimson velvet banner with the coats of arms of Asti, is the “dream” for which

the twenty-one rivals compete. But “Palio” is also the name of the fiery and exciting race that inflames the passions of the Asti area each September. The Palio is run in the name of the Patron Saint of Asti, St. Secundus. There are two Palio banners: one offered by the City Council to the Church of St. Secundus in May, the other offered as the prize for the race in September.

These two Palio banners are made up of two essential elements: the painted “labarum”, with the

coats of arms of the City of Asti and the actual “Palio”, which is a long length of crimson velvet

joined to the “labarum”. The Palio is measured in “rasi”: sixteen for the Palio won in the race, ten

for the Palio offered to the Collegiate Church.

A “raso” is an ancient Piedmontese unit of measurement, corresponding to sixty centimetres.

THE PROCESSION

The solemn procession preceding the race is a magnificent fresco commemorating the medieval

history of the City: each group is led by the standard-bearer carrying the colours of the village, district or town, followed by the pageanteers dressed in historical costumes, who re-enact a different

historical theme each year.

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