People often get confused on how long the Palio takes and what it actually consists of. I thought I would try and explain how the 24 hours of the Palio works. The Palio takes place twice a year on the same date the 2nd July and the 16th August in the Campo in Siena, Italy.
The actual Palio only takes about 1 ½ minutes – It is 3 laps around the campo. However there is so much to be seen and enjoyed leading up to the actual race that really adds to the excitement and atmosphere of the Palio. Often this is where unique access to these events can only be gained via people with the “right” contacts and is not something that can be organised yourself.
In the days leading up to the Palio the horses are selected and paired up with the Contrada. This is done by a process of veterinary examinations and trials around the Campo track to determine their suitability to run on this type of track. At the end of these trials the Captains of the Contrada together will choose the 10 most suitable horses. The Horses are then allocated to the specific Contrada and there are six trials preceding the Palio where the fit of both the horses and the jockeys are checked. The Jockey can be changed by the Contrada at any stage until the morning of the Palio, but the horse cannot be changed. The trials can be attended by reaching the square before the track is “cleared” by the Police.
The Contrada dinner takes place in the district of the Contrada in the streets the night before the Palio, and the gathering is to honour the key participants of the Palio. At the head table the jockeys and leaders of the Contrada will sit and there are many songs, speeches and toasts. After dinner the Contrada leaders meet with the other Contrada leaders to make secret agreements to favour their own victory or to hinder their rival.
On the day of the Palio each Contrada will bless their horse and jockey – often even in the church! The priest will conclude with a wish that is almost an order “GO and return victorious!”
The Historical Parade participants of the Contradas will then parade around the town stopping in various places to wave their Contrada flags before entering the Campo. After parading around the Campo the participants sit on a special grandstand leaving the Campo clear for the highlight – the Palio.
As discussed in a previous blog there is the Mossa followed by the Palio race itself. The Mossa is the argy bargy beforehand where the jockeys are vying for the best starting position. When the 10th horse enters the start line the race starts. The Mossa can take an hour or 5 minutes – no one ever knows! The previous deals which have been made between the various Contrada affect when the 10th horse moves – the Jockey may be waiting for a particular other horse to be well – or badly-placed before he comes. And then of course there is the Il Palio itself! The winner of course is the one that crosses the line first.
Click here for information on our exceedingly popular Siena Palio break