DAYS OF THE PALIO
June 29 to July 2 or August 13 to August 16
The Palio di Siena is a 4 day festival and conducted twice per year. Below we have outlined the primary activities relating to the event over the four day period.
Batteria (Selection Races)
Local owners will submit their horses for consideration to run in the race. From the many that are submitted, approximately 40 to 50 horses will be run in the trial heats in groups of 6 or 7 and actually simulate the race (3 laps) around the campo. The purpose of these trial runs is not to select only the winners of each heat, but to verify each horse’s ability to handle the unique shape of the track that is Piazza del Campo. Ultimately 10 horses will be selected (voted on by the Captains of each Contrada) and presented to the city mayor to be randomly assigned (via the tratta) to the Contrada who are in the race.
Tratta (Horse Assignments)
The 10 chosen horses are presented in the campo to the mayor, the captains of the Contrada and other city administrators who collectively oversee (in public and in front of the contrada members) the random assignment of the 10 horses to the 10 Contrada. A random drawing system is used to match a horse to a particular Contrada. Once the assignment has been revealed, the Contrada members will immediately escort the horse out of the campo and back to their district. A temporary horse stable has been arranged in each neighborhood to take care of the horse during the days of the event.
Prova (Trial Races)
There are 6 trial races during the 4 Days of the Palio. Members of each Contrada will be in the campo to support their cause. The first trial race (7pm) is on the evening of June 29 (or August 13). The second trial is 9am the following day (30 June or 14 August) and then again that evening; then on the morning of the 1st July (or August 15) and that evening prior to the Contrada Dinner (see below). The final trial race (provaccia) is the morning of July 2. A ticket is required for any reserved seat or window viewing position (and can be purchased as part of your package).
Cena Prova Generale (Contrada Dinner)
In the evening of the 1st July or 15th August (after the trial race) you will have the opportunity to attend one of the Contrada banquet dinners. The setting for the invitation only dinners is outdoors in a special street or piazza within the respective Contrada (district). Depending on the size of the Contrada, some dinners are served in this fashion for well over a 1,000 Contrada members and their guests. Between the wine, the food and the friendliest of atmospheres, you will surely begin to understand how the Palio is more than just a horse race.
On the day of the race (July 2 or August 16) each Contrada in the race will take their assigned horse and selected jockey into their respective churches (each Contrada has their own church). Jockey’s are “hired” professionals and in almost all cases not members of a particular Contrada. Typically (but not always) you would witness the horse blessing for the Contrada with which you had the dinner the night before.
Corteo in Citta (City Parade)
Once the horse blessings are completed, a small group (comparasa) of Contrada members from each of the 17 Contrada will traverse the city (in medieval costume) with drums and the flags of the Contrada, stopping at various key piazza or historical locations for a bit of ceremonial flag waiving; eventually they make it to the Duomo (Siena Cathedral) to enter and receive their own blessing. Since each Contrada comes from their own neighborhood, at times the groups will be passing each other in the streets. One of the possible places to position yourself is in Piazza Duomo or along via del Capitano; from where you can eventually see all of the groups as they come and go to/from the Duomo. After the Duomo stop, they make their way to the campo and to via Casato di Sotto on which they will line up to prepare for entry to the campo for the Historical Parade.
Corteo Storica (Historical Parade)
The present day historic parade has its roots to the 19th century (as early as 1813) when it was decreed that each Contrada should parade with an equal number of costumed participants. Also in that year, the Carroccio (war chariot) was inserted to carry the winner’s prize, the palio banner (drappellone). Updates to costumes, changes in sequence of presentation and to those chosen to participate have taken place in the subsequent years, providing and striving to obtain greater historical accuracy and meaning for the history of the event. Now with its nearly 600 costumed participants, the procession re-evokes the history of the Republic of Siena, which naturally includes the intense history of the Palio.
Palio di Siena (the Race)
On July 2 (or August 160, after 4 days of mounting tensions and a full afternoon of colorful pageantry, the city and its citizens are ready for the most famous horse race in all of Italy – Palio di Siena. Once the signal is given, the horses with jockeys in their respective colors and jerseys will enter the track (from the “paddock” inside the Palazzo Pubblico) and move to the start line (mossa). Their sequential order for entry into the “starting gate”, defined by a front and back rope, will be a secret until announced by the starter (mossiere) standing nearby. Once the first nine horses are in the gate, the tenth horse remains outside and enters only when ready. Once the tenth horse steps inside the back rope, the front rope will be dropped and the race begins, three laps, but over within about 90 seconds. For the winner, pure elation, for the losers (the other nine) the festival is over. But shortly the ongoing spirit of the Palio will begin again, as the Palio in Siena is always alive in the hearts and minds of the city’s inhabitants.