What attracts me to small towns in Italy is the spirit of pride harbored by the people. Traditions and customs from ages past remain imbedded deeply in their culture, respected and loved through re-enactments of annual festivals. I love the marching, the colorful costumes and banners, hats with plumes and dancers tossing their contrade flags. The town’s participants don costumes from the Renaissance era. They are a proud people.
What is a Palio? Most people think it is a horse race, but the palio is actually a banner or cloth cherished by the winner of a competition. They keep this banner until the next years race, where it is relinquished to the new champion. Like Siena’s seventeen contrade, or neighborhoods, Ferrara has eight districts that compete in the races, all with a true spirit of camaraderie.
Ferrara, in the Emilia-Romagna Region, is noted for its exquisitely maintained Renaissance buildings. Many of the Renaissance artists were either born here or lived here for some time. The town is completely surrounded by a medieval wall that is 9 km long and has stood the test of time very well. In fact, like Lucca, there is a pathway all along the top that is perfect for walking or bicycling. Being the home of a famous university, students and bicycles are everywhere. Go follow their bliss and rent a bike at the train station.
Every region in Italy has several Palio’s happening throughout the year. So what makes Ferrara special? For one, their palio is said to be the oldest one in Italy. For another, Ferrara is simply delightful to hang out in. With medieval walls to bicycle on top of, fantastic Renaissance architecture to walk through and admire, and artwork by famous artists to gaze upon, how can you lose?