Sacred and profane blend together and ancient traditions are revived in the streets of Siena.
The events that mark the four days of the Festival, both civic and religious, follow a precise and rigorous schedule.
The first event takes place on the last Sunday in May and the Sunday after the July Palio. On these days, there is a draw to determine the contrade (neighbourhoods) that will participate in the July Palio and August Palio respectively. The Palio lasts four days: from 29 June to 2 July for the race of Provenzano and from 13 to 16 August for the race of the Assumption.
The first day of the festival (29 June and 13 August) is packed with events. Early in the morning at the Palazzo Pubblico, the horses that will participate in the ‘batterie di selezione’ (qualifying races) are marked. The horses are grouped in 6/8 per race and compete for the usual three laps of the square, after which the 10 captains meet with the mayor to choose the 10 horses that will compete in the Palio.
Once the vet has examined the selected horses, we proceed with the Assegning ceremony. In Piazza del Campo, the mayor stands on a stage together with the 10 captains and randomly draws a horse for each contrada. At each assignment, the barbaresco (a figure present in each contrada who takes care of the horse throughout the Palio) receives the horse he has been assigned and brings it to the neighbourhood stable, accompanied by various members of the contrada. The captains must now choose the jockey that best suits the characteristics of the horse they have been given. The jockey can be changed until the morning of the Palio.
In the late afternoon of the first day, the first of the six trials leading up to the Palio takes place. This ‘training’ assesses both the horse’s and the jockey’s condition.
For each rehearsal, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, the horse is accompanied to the ‘Entrone’ (the courtyard of the Podestà) by the whole neighbourhood, singing their traditional songs.
Life in the neighbourhoods continues with rehearsals and in the evening everyone gathers for dinner to continue celebrating these festive days.
The dress rehearsal is held on the evenings of the third day (1 July and 15 August). Before the horses come out of the Entrone, there is a rehearsal of the charge of the Policemen on horseback in Piazza del Campo, which will be performed the following day by a squad of the 4th Carabinieri Mounted Regiment of Rome, just before the historical procession enters the square. Then, the General Rehearsal Dinner is held in each contrada for good luck. The jockey sits together with the mayors and leaders of the contrada at the table of honour. The dinner is marked by singing, speeches and good wishes for the success of one’s contrada in the next day’s race.
On the morning of the race (2 July and 16 August) early in the morning the so-called ‘Jockey’s Mass’ takes place, a Eucharistic celebration in front of the chapel of the City Hall presided over by the Archbishop of Siena in the presence of the captains and jockeys of the Contrade participating in the Palio.
Afterwards, the ‘Provaccia’ takes place, which is the last race before the Palio. Then, captains and jockeys meet inside the municipality for the signing of the jockey; from this moment on, the jockey cannot be changed.
The long day of the Palio then begins: in the early afternoon, the blessing of the horse and jockey takes place in each participating contrada. In each oratory, the priest concludes the ritual with an impetuous wish: Go and come back a winner!
At 4:30 pm (in August at 3:30 pm) the Historical Procession kicks off: the ‘Comparse’ (performers wearing traditional costumes) set off from the Prefecture building and reach Piazza del Campo. At the end of the Historical Parade, the banner is hoisted onto the Judges’ Stage, seventeen standard bearers perform the victory flag waving, and immediately afterwards the horses emerge from the Entrone. The envelope with the starting order, also obtained via draw, is delivered into the hands of the so-called ‘mossiere’ who calls the Contrade in the assigned order.
At the end of the Palio, we witness the jubilation of the victorious Contrada, as the winning group makes its way to the Basilica of Provenzano (in July) or the Cathedral (in August), then to their own oratory to intone the Te Deum, a song giving thanks to the Virgin Mary.
The celebrations will then continue until the first days of October and will end with the traditional Victory Dinner.