Strong Maritime Bonds


The Argentario is a headland on the Tyrrhenian coast of Tuscany, two hours by car from Rome and two and a half from Florence. It is connected to the mainland by three thin strips of land, on which can be found long, relaxing sandy beaches and the flamingos of the WWF’s Natural Oasis.

However, the natural beauty is only one aspect that you will enjoy here. The perfectly preserved Spanish fortresses of the only two towns on the headland are part of the interesting history that is waiting to be heard. Forte Filippo is one of the three Spanish fortresses at Porto Ercole which, in 2004, was recognised as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.

The Argentario is also known for its pristine secluded beaches and coves and, thanks to the mild climate, it is an ideal destination throughout the year.

The Italian public holiday in mid-August – the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin – celebrates the two hearts of the country: the sacred and the profane. On this day, which officially closes the long Italian summer holiday, there are cultural celebrations in virtually every single town across the country. And on the Argentario peninsula, there is a heartfelt celebration of the town’s visceral relationship with the sea.

argentario g770c5274a 1920
Forte Filippo at Porto Ercole – Argentario [Image by Luca from Pixabay]

In Porto Santo Stefano, on 15th August, they will celebrate the 80th Palio Marinaro dell’Argentario, and the human engines are already warming up.

But it’s less than a hundred years old can this really be one of Italy’s cultural ‘traditions’?

The race has actually taken place since the 1700s, as documented by the literary references to it, but it was only in 1937 that the municipality formalised the celebration into an official competition with rules and regulations. It recreates the scene of the little local fishermen’s boat being chased, and then escaping from, the unscrupulous pirates who were ravaging the Tyrrhenian seas at the time in search of prey.

1991 Stendardo 50thAnniversary 1
Banner of the 50th Anniversary [Source:]

There are four traditional rowing boats, which are named after the winds, in Italian:

Gregale (North-East)

Scirocco (South-East)

Libeccio (South-West)

Maestrale (North-West)

16 1 Photo group
Getting ready [Source:]
And there are four neighbourhoods that compete with each other for the prize:

  • Pilarella
  • Valle
  • Fortezza
  • Croce

manifesto 70 palio marinaro
Banner of the 70th Palio Marinaro – showing the flags of the four neighborhood  [Source:]
The competition used to be opened by a historical procession with people wearing the traditional clothes of the Spanish Domination.
Since 2017, the competition has also had a ‘pink’ version, for women only, which usually takes place in Spring.


Palio 2019 1636 1024x683 supporters
Palio 2019 Valle Supporters [Source:]

As some have suggested, the whole story can be read as a big allegory of the town’s relationship with the sea.

The four wooden boats are pushed by the strength of the men – the fishermen of the allegory – while facing the adversity of the open sea; and the public on the shore incite the rowers; they represent the hope and the good wishes of the family members left on the mainland.

A very symbolic image is the final scene of the little winning boat being literally submerged with the supporters, who jump on board having swum frantically from the shore. They  show their support and joy by hugging their local heroes and celebrating the victory and, at the same time, welcoming their loved ones back home.

PALIO2010 2129
Palio 2010 [Source:]

🛎️ CONTACT US TODAY to start planning your next holiday to Tuscany,  slow-travelling with us to undiscovered destinations.