The Palio of Ferrara is the most ancient one in the world and in addition to this is peculiar for its kind of ride that is joyful and so different from other warlike palii. In these last there are always enemy that you have to fight with the lance.
This is a very important moment for the city: all the Contrade participate wearing dress of different colours to gain the “palio”, but also and over all, to make party and to remember the Renaissance, a period in which Ferrara was really a capital.
The Palio of Ferrara was institutionalized by Ferrara’s Commune in 1279. The statutes of 1287, first real group of rules promulgated by Ferrara’s Commune, decided that the Palio had to be ride two times a year: the 23rd of April as tribute to San Giorgio that is the patron of Ferrara, and the 15th of August as tribute to the Saint Virgin.
The rides of horses, donkeys, women, men for which everybody could participate under registration, had to take part in those days and under the eyes of the authorities of the city.
The prize for the winner was the “palio”, a cloth; for the second and to the third classified the prizes were a salami and a cock.
The traditional Palio of San Giorgio generally took place all along the Via Grande (today called Via Ripagrande-Via Carlo Mayr) parallel to the shore of the river Po, starting from the village of the Pioppa up to Castel Tedaldo (that today is the zone of the aqueduct). Associations of the city used to offer to the owner of the horse the cloth as symbol of triumph. Other rides used to take place at the “delizie” estensi, together with hunting, merry-go-round and tournaments.
In 1391, when the Marquis Alberto d’Este come back from Rome (where Pope Bonifacio IX gave him the “Rosa d’oro”, symbol of distinction from the Santa Sede, and the note called “In supreme dignitatis” that was the permission to open an University in Ferrara), were organized as tribute for him, three rides of horses, one of donkeys, two of men and one of women. In history remained important also the parade and the Palio of 1471, tribute to Borso d’Este that come back from Rome after having obtained the title of duke of Ferrara from Pope Paolo II.
We have to underline again the rides that took place during the period of the duke Ercole I (1471-1505) and of his wife Eleonora d’Aragona: this last made proclaim the Palio if Ercole wasn’t in Ferrara. In that period there were also rides in occasion of births, marriages, important guests and other particular events.
The memory of the ancient rides of the Palio is still alive also thanks to the paintings into the Salone dei Mesi at Palazzo Schifanoia. Here we can find represented men, women, the duke Borso, the court, ladies and noble knights on their balconies of the palaces, and a great party in the background.
In the course of the Renaissance the rides of Ferrara were very famous also because many noble families took part in these with their own horses. In 1466 king Ferdinando di Napoli would try the speed of his horses in Ferrara; in 1475 the Gonzaga’s family, marquises of Mantova, participated to the Palio with 19 horses and won the prize; the second place, in that same competition was of Isabella d’Este’s horse. In chronicles we can read that the prize for the ride of the horses in 1481 was a golden cloth together with a crest.
The traditional rides at the Palio were a great popular party, being these opened to everyone who wanted to participate. In times, other rides were add to the traditional ones (especially during the dukedom of Ercole I), but these new ones were more aristocratic, and had place in the area of Barco the nearest to the city: the “Barchetto del duca”.
Talking about the putte’s rides – that took place from Santa Maria delle Bocche (at the corner Gioco del Pallone) up to the gate of Gusmaria – we can refer just to an edit issued by the duke Ercole I. This document was an invitation for every person of every village of his city to send “putte” of 12 years old to participate. For the first classified there would have been a green cloth and to the other 15 the duke would have offered new fussiness. That 23rd of April had ride 57 girls.
The men’s ride took place from the corner of San Pietro up to the gate of Gusmaria, instead the donkeys’ ride took place from the gate of Sotto up to the gate of Gusmaria.
During the XVI century the rides were move in the widest streets of the “Addizione Erculea” (created by Biagio Rossetti) and so from Corso della Giovecca along Via degli Angeli (today Corso Ercole I d’Este) and up to Via San Benedetto.
After the assignment of the Stato Estense to the Santa Sede (1598) some parties went on, but were more similar to the happy atmosphere of the carnival. Real rides become more and more rare, there were instead many dances and masks. In the first half of the IX century there were still some horses’ rides, but soon substituted with “sedioli’s rides” until the 1860.
In 1930 Guido Angelo Facchini took again the estense’s tradition, but this was restored just in 1967.
Today the rides take place the last Sunday of May as tribute to San Giorgio, but the real meaning of that particular date is to remember the famous edition of 1471, ride in honor of Borso who became duke of Ferrara. The chronicles and the statutes have handed down to us the four palii: the green one dedicated to San Paolo for the putte’s ride, the red one of San Romano for the putti’s ride, the white one dedicated to San Maurelio for the asine’s ride and last but not least the yellow or golden one of San Giorgio for the horses’ ride.
Opponents for the achievement of the palii are the four quarter that all have territory inside of the walls: San Benedetto (white-light blue), Santa Maria in Vado (yellow-violet), San Paolo (white-black), Santo Spirito (yellow-green) and the four village: San Giacomo (yellow-blue), San Giorgio (yellow-red), San Giovanni (red-blue) and San Luca (red-green).
There are also competitions of flag-wavers and musicians that represent the eight Contrade in seven different speciality: traditional single, traditional double, little team, big team, musicians and assignation of the “combinata” (sum of the best scores gained).