The Palio of the Gulf (Palio del Golfo in Italian) is a historic regatta that takes place in the waters of the Gulf of La Spezia – also known as Gulf of Poets – on the first Sunday of August.
The race is among 13 handmade boats, each representing a borgata (hamlet or village) located on the bay: Portovenere, Le Grazie, Fezzano, Cadimare, Marola, CRDD (a sports society representing La Spezia’s historic center), Canaletto, Fossamastra, Muggiano, San Terenzo, Venere Azzurra, Lerici and Tellaro.
The boats are handmade by local artisans with unique characteristics that make them fast and agile. The boats race along 2 kilometers in slightly more than 10 minutes. The crew is composed of four rowers and one helmsman. The traditional and main category is the one of the Seniors, but there are also the Juniors’ and the Ladies’ categories since 1964 and 1995 respectively.
A bit of history
The origin is deeply rooted in the local maritime culture: the first recorded palio took place in 1925, when villagers competed using normal fishing boats full of mitili or muscoli (the famous mussels from the surrounding waters). According to some sources, though, a similar race had already taken place in 1878.
The first official edition of the Palio del Golfo was held in 1932, but the fishing boats were only substituted by racing boats in 1934.
It’s more than a race
The Palio of the Gulf involves different smaller races throughout the year, including a Christmas regatta, a trophy for the ladies on International Woman’s Day, and various pre-palio competitions between May and July.
Apart from the sport aspect, what really characterizes the palio tradition is the passion and involvement of the local population. For example, an integral part of local folklore and of the Palio itself is the traditional parade that takes place on the Friday evening preceding the big event. Each village participates in this masked parade theme competition, which is a sort of summer carnival complete with floats. The Borgata with the most creative costumes, choreography and concept wins the award and gets to keep it for 12 months, after which it is returned for the next competition.
All of this, from the races to the parades, takes place annually thanks to the voluntary work of the 13 Borgate and the Palio Committee.
On the big day, minutes before the Palio of the Gulf begins, a beautiful tribute is paid to those who have died at sea. The remembrance includes a show by the paratroopers of the underwater special forces of the Italian Navy (Comsubin).
Spectacular fireworks mark the end of the most awaited for events in the Gulf of Poets!
Palio of the Gulf: video
This video mixes images from the 2007 Palio (82nd edition) with some older shots. It will give you an idea of the tribute before the race, and of the excitement during and after the palio. Although nothing beats experiencing this event first hand… don’t miss it on 2nd August 2015!
Photo credits: www.paliodelgolfo.it and Gabriele 71