The place that inspired me

Getting caught up in the exuberance of Siena's Palio helped to put the actor in touch with his Italian roots

It was about 15 years ago, the summer between school and university, and I was touring Italy with some mates.

It was about 15 years ago, the summer between school and university, and I was touring Italy with some mates.

We had been staying with this wonderful Tuscan woman who had let us eat her fantastic food in return for us sanding down a few shutters and talking English to her children. It was their family car we borrowed one morning for the short drive down to Siena.

I knew what to expect of Rome and Florence, but not of Siena, and that was what made it so exciting. Especially since, quite by chance, on the very day we chose to go there, the Palio was going on.

It was early morning when we arrived, but it was immediately clear that something big was about to happen. Siena is a real labyrinth, and every corner we turned there was a strange, exuberant, medieval feeling. There were drums banging and people shouting.

The Palio is so much more than a horse race. It's a massive event for the locals and there's a lot of pride at stake, not least owing to the heavy betting which is a big part of it. It's a fantastic, vibrant spectacle. All the wards have their own symbols and colours and they parade around the city before the event.

They had roped off a bit of the square to make the track. We were standing on a slope in the centre of a crowd of what felt like thousands. Others were hanging out of the windows of restaurants and houses, and the minute the race started they went mad.

The race itself was a short, sharp, intense experience. There were only a couple of laps, but there was lots of jostling and nudging, and a couple of the horses fell.

I can't remember which ward won the race, but the winner carried a blue flag with a fish on it. Afterwards, the horse was paraded through the streets to the banging of drums, and the rider was carried on the shoulders of friends. Then the celebrations really began, and we joined in.

The fact that we were tourists seemed incidental. It was such an exuberant day and night. The Italians can really party, and everybody was very friendly. The atmosphere was intoxicating, not just the beer!

The experience gave me a notion of my roots. My dad is Italian and although I didn't grow up with him, Italy felt very much like home. I've never returned and I don't think I'd want to: it was just so perfect.

Interview by Jonathan Thompson

Mark Strong is currently starring in David Mamet's 'Speed-the-Plow' at the New Ambassadors Theatre. He also appears in 'Anna Karenina' on Channel 4 on 9 May.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Assistant Manager

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hotel in Chadderton is a p...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk