This year I had the pleasure to attend a unique and exciting show, a tradition handed down since generations with passion and commitment: the Palio del Golfo (‘Gulf Challenge’) of La Spezia, an Italian small town located in north-eastern region Liguria.
The Palio is a a row boat race among 13 boats similar to the traditional gozzo, but handcrafted for the occasion by local artisans. It takes place every year on the first Sunday of August in the waters facing La Spezia.
The Palio del Golfo – Italy
The Palio del Golfo has its roots in the seafaring culture of the Gulf people, probably in the improvised contests taking places among crews working on the fishing boats. The winner of this challenges gained priority in unloading his catch on the dock, boosting thus his earnings prospect.
Still nowadays, the local people get very excited about this event, especially those living in the sea hamlets (Borgate): Portovenere, Le Grazie, Fezzano, Cadimare, Marola, Canaletto, Fossamastra, Muggiano, San Terenzo, Venere Azzurra, Lerici and Tellaro. These are the teams taking part in the Palio, plus the Recreational Circle of the Employees of Defence.
One of the highlights is the Palio’s eve, when the boats get weighed and measured in order to make sure they respect the requirements. Any unauthorized change entails immediate disqualification. Of course, every year there is debate and controversies, and I witnessed with my own eyes endless discussions about what seemed to me just meaningless details.
Once everyone calmed down, the people can reunite and prepare for the Borgate dinner, a very lively occasion where everyone usually throws in its forecasts for the next day.
On the very day of the Palio, the boats receive their blessing from the religious authorities. Then come the junior and woman races. And at half past seven in the evening, among applauses and the supporters’ choruses, the Palio del Golfo finally starts.
Even if I was but a simple tourist, I felt the chills on my back and my heartbeat quickened. I can only try to imagine what deep involvement means it for the inhabitants of the hamlets the teams are from. Well, actually I do know, since I saw it with my eyes. The tension during the race, and the joy enflaming the faces of the supporters of the winning team of the 89th Palio del Golfo, Le Grazie!