The Palio of Siena

one of the contrade's flag bearers
The Palio of Siena is a traditional bareback horse race, which takes place each year in Siena in Tuscany, in the heart of the historical city centre, on the famous square Piazza del Campo, generally on July 2nd and August 16th.
The Palio is not an event which is organized for the purposes of tourism: it is the life of the people of Siena in time and in its various aspects and feelings. It has ancient origins and some rules are still valid since 1644, the year in which the first Palio was run. 

emblems of the 17 contrade of Siena
The territory of the city is divided into 17 Contrade and three sections (Terzieri) with boundaries established in 1729 by the Governor of the city.

Terziere Città (south): 
Aquila (Eagle), Chiocciola (Snail), Onda (Wave), Pantera (Panther), Selva (Forest), Tartuca (Tortoise).

Terziere San Martino (north-east): 
Civetta (Owl), Leocorno (Unicorn), Nicchio (Shell), Torre (Tower), Valdimontone or Montone (Ram).

Terziere Camollia (north-west): 
Bruco (Caterpillar),  Drago (Dragon), Giraffa (Giraffe), Istrice (Porcupine), Lupa (She-Wolf), Oca (Goose). 

While walking through the streets of Siena, you can tell in which contrada you are by the flags which are displayed on many buildings.

Only 10 contrade take part in one race. The seven contrade which did not take part in the corresponding race the year before are entitled to participate, together with three other contrade, which are selected by drawing lots. This means that every contrada participates minimum two times every two years, unless it has been penalized with a disqualification for one or more races. To give only one exceptional example, Montone participated eight times in a row from August 2005 until July 2009 (but didn't win any of these races). 

The Palio in Siena is a four-day event. During the three days preceding the race, the city of Siena prepares to celebrate this festival and all the inhabitants of Siena parade in the streets to show off the colors of their contrada, dressed in medieval costumes. The Senese population lives the event all year round, because the Palio calendar contains many events, which are not known to the larger public. Each contrada has its own jockey but not its own horse. The horses are being assigned at the beginning of the four days. The days before the Palio you can attend the trials on Piazza del Campo.

Piazza del Campo before the race
A few hours before the race you can get into the Square from any entrance until about 16.00H. After that time you can only use the entrance in via Duprè (the entrance from the Onda Contrada). Keep in mind that this is the only entrance still open and that thousands of other people will be trying to enter there at the last minute. It is therefore advisable to arrive well in advance. Once you have entered into the Square, it is even more problematic to leave before the beginning of the race. For that reason it is very important to carefully evaluate whether or not to enter or only to go in if you are determined to remain until the end of the race. There are no toilets on the square and there is space for about 28.000 people to stand. There are about 33.000 paid seats on tribunes and on the terraces of the houses facing the square.  

Historical Parade
On the race track on Piazza del Campo, before the race, you can watch a Historical Parade, which is a lively display of rich medieval costumes which date back to the time period from 1430 to 1480. Each participating contrada is represented by its flag wavers and their colours are as bright as one may fancy. 

the Palio race
After the parade, the complex mechanism of the race procedure starts with the entry of the horses on the track on Piazza del Campo. The jockeys conduct their horses to the start: the so called "move" or mossa is the starting procedure. The horses have to be aligned between two ropes. The order of entry is established by destiny, in fact the Contrade are called according to the order of extraction. The tenth and last horse rushes in when the jockey thinks it is more appropriate, thereby deciding the time of departure. If the departure is not valid, a gun powder explosion stops the horses. If the departure is valid, the horses have to race three laps around the square for about 1000 meters and the glory of victory goes to the first horse to arrive, be it with or without its jockey. 

exaltation of a winning contrada
The emotions of winners and losers run high. Sometimes it takes many years for a Contrada to win a Palio. For instance Lupa has not won since 1989, and Aquila since 1992 and when Torre won in 2005, they had not won since 1961. It is recommended not to interfere with the contrada members during moments of great tension, for example, during the minutes before the race or after the race if they are disillusioned or angry. It is known that between certain Contrade there is a fierce rivalry, which sometimes leads to a violent melee after the race, as happened in 2015 and in 2011.

the winners parade with their prize
The contrada members of the winning contrada bring the prize (drapellone), a large painted canvas designed each year by a different artist,  to church to thank the Virgin Mary. Then they take it back to their contrada and constantly parade it through the streets of the city, accompanied by songs, drums and flags. This victory parade is repeated also the day after the Palio.

Tuscan Villa with pool near Siena Tuscany

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