The Shepherdess of Siena by Linda LaffertyRaised by her aunt and uncle amidst the rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside, young orphan Virginia Tacci has always harbored a deep love for horses—though she knows she may never have the chance to ride. As a shepherdess in sixteenth-century Italy, Virginia’s possibilities are doubly limited by her peasant class and her gender. Yet while she tends her flock, Virginia is captivated by the daring equestrian feats of the high-spirited Isabella de’ Medici, who rides with the strength and courage of any man, much to the horror of her brother, the tyrannical Gran Duca Francesco de’ Medici.
Inspired, the young shepherdess keeps one dream close to her heart: to race in Siena’s Palio. Twenty-six years after Florence captured Siena, Virginia’s defiance will rally the broken spirit of the Senese people and threaten the pernicious reign of the Gran Duca. Bringing alive the rich history of one of Tuscany’s most famed cities, this lush, captivating saga draws an illuminating portrait of one girl with an unbreakable spirit.
Palio di Siena: 'It's not a horse race; it's a way of life' - photo essay
Surrounded by the Chianti region on the north and the Crete senesi on the south, Siena is a sort of watershed between so different landscapes such as that of the Chianti region - made of gentle hills covered with olive groves and vineyards for the production of one of the most famous wines in the world - and that of the Crete Senesi - made of sheer and almost plantless hills. In Siena, all roads lead to Piazza del Campo. It is the principal public space of the historic center of Siena, and is one of Europe's greatest medieval squares. It is renowned worldwide for its beauty and architectural integrity. Piazza del Campo is one of Italy's most famous piazzas, mostly because of Il Palio , a bareback horse race that dates back to the Middle Ages and still takes place on the outer section of the square twice a year. The Palazzo Pubblico and its Torre del Mangia, as well as various palazzi signorili surround the shell-shaped piazza.
Please refresh the page and retry. Held in honour of the Virgin Mary, the race takes place twice a year, on July 2 and August All this means two things for anyone keen to observe the race. The second is that you need to plan well ahead, as nobody is going to make you a gift of a grandstand ticket. By this time, Piazza del Campo will already have been turned into a race-track, with workmen covering the course around the outside of the scallop-shaped piazza in yellow earth and staking out the central area which is the only free vantage point.
Dating back centuries, it's one of Siena's most important traditions and thousands of locals and tourists gather in the central piazza to watch it unfold. The first of this year's races — known as the Palio of Provenzano in honour of the Madonna of Provenzano, an icon kept in a local church — takes place on the evening of July 2nd. There's a second on August 16th, as well as a series of trial runs in the days leading up to each race. Children cheer their local district. For the Siennese, the contest is a chance to celebrate local pride and honour the city's long history.