Italy’s Oldest Palio: Palio di Asti
Siena’s Palio is arguably the most famous horse race in Italy, but it is by no means the only – or the oldest – one. In a couple of weeks, a Palio dating back to the 13th century will be run in the town of Asti in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. The Palio di Asti is the oldest recorded bareback horse race in Italy, and takes place every third Sunday in September.
This year, that means the race itself will be run on September 16th, but the pageantry begins the Thursday before the race when flag-bearers and marching bands representing the various neighborhoods which will compete in the race make their way through the piazza. Local residents of the neighborhoods are on hand to cheer for their district. Events on Friday and Saturday include a market in the piazza and neighborhood meals held in honor of each district’s horse and jockey.
The earliest recorded Palio di Asti took place in 1275 (for reference, Siena’s famous Palio “only” goes back to the 1600s), and you can read more about the event and its history on the official Palio di Asti site here. Tickets must be purchased for this Palio if you want to get a seat in one of the grandstands surrounding the piazza, although admission to the central area is free.
Asti’s Palio is certainly not “undiscovered Italy,” but if you are in the Piemonte region and can get a room nearby, you are bound to be treated to a fantastic Italian festival and more than likely will not see as many tourists as you would in Siena. And while things may already be booked up for this year, you can always plan for next year’s Palio and reserve a room in one of the the Asti hostels or Asti hotels nearby for a real taste of medieval Italy.