Palio degli Asini (Donkey Palio)
We were ready and fulled for an afternoon of Palio!
Our last full day in Alba! But definitely the most jam packed full of Festival kick off fun. Today was the Palio and display of medieval traditions. This Palio is special in comparison to the Palios of Asti and Siena. Story has it that “back in the day” Asti invited neighboring villages to participate in their Palio. Apparently, Alba won so consistently that they were uninvited to participate. As a proper “F-U”, Alba started their own Palio race… except with donkeys. Makes me laugh but we have heard this story from different people and it is always consistent. And so, on the first Sunday of the Truffle Festival, Alba holds the Donkey Palio.
We walked outside to start the morning with breakfast to find right outside to Duomo were all the donkeys right in the square awaiting their selection for the Palio.
We just had to laugh! All different shapes and sizes and colors and personalities, there was no way they could be raced with.
I did not want to miss the selection of the donkeys so we quickly made our way across the Piazza to get breakfast.
But then horns. And drums. The procession of the Borgo San Lorenzo brigade began and breakfast was going to have to wait. They lined up in front of the Duomo to put of their show of their music and flag throwing demonstrations. It was amazing to watch! The dedicate to tradition is something we always admired, especially when we were in Asti and Florence, so it is an Italian trait we love to observe.
After their show, we quickly got a bit to each before watching the donkeys selection. There are nine borgo (neighborhoods) in Alba. And some combination of donkeys with numbers and jockeys with numbers set up the selection. It was very difficult for us to follow along but somehow all the donkeys got selected and were taken out of the Piazza for Palio preparation.
Our tickets indicated to be at the Piazza Cagnasso by 1400 (2PM) upon we arrived a few minutes after to people already lined up around the track. We walked all the way around to snag our small plot of railing where we would be for the next few hours.
And then we waiting. Just before 1500 (3PM), a parade started with the traditional horns, drums, and flag throwing. The opening we anticipated for the Palio.
Then came two and a half hours of each of the nine Borgos presenting a historical reenactment, each of varying lengths and spectacle. Some kept it simple to tradition while others reenacted full scenes with stages and props, and other used fire and Broadway style productions. They were all amazing to watch but we did not expect to wait almost three hours for the Palio to actually start. Knowing this ahead of time would have helped our expectations of the Palio starting but the productions were amazing to watch. There was a winner but it was unclear what the qualifications were and what the prize was- perhaps I will need to research!
And all that waiting- it was all insanely worth it. Saying “you have to be there” is true but honestly, I do not think anything I can write will capture the amazement we had of the entire event.
The Palio had three races, four laps per race. Each race had nine horses, one for each Borgo, and each Borgo had two rides for each of the two races. This year, two young women rode for the first time, which was quite exciting news from the commentator. The first race were the “untrained” donkeys and the second race were the “experienced” racing donkeys. Then, a final third races of the top finishers of each race would compete for the final placement.
Getting the donkeys to the start line was one thing and getting them to start at the “pronto!” start was almost impossible. Through both races, a series of comical events during each lap kept us reeling with laughter and cheering on every rider struggling to have a donkey move, stop eating, or go the right direction. You can tell the riders all want to win, but were really having fun with it. And that the donkeys are all well treated by the riders.
At the second race, four donkeys turned around and went the other way. Other times they created a barrier for the donkeys actually managing to make a lap seem impossible. Some donkeys kept a light constant walk for the entire duration of the race. One jumped outside the hay barrier into our railing area- very exciting stuff. One race was- wait for it- a photo finish that needed review while another start was called back after a lap because it was not a fair start for all the donkeys. The passion and dedicate was oozing from everyone. It was all amazing! Enjoy all these photos of the donkeys that were not as competitive!
The final race of champions actually had three donkeys and riders that were quite competitive. I do not know what a normal year is like but it kept us all screaming and cheering for every donkey and rider. In the end, donkey and rider 19 won and the crowd went wild.
Continue reading about the Alba trip here!