In a few days there will the most important Italian horse race, the Palio di Siena that will be on July 2nd and then again on august 16th.
A bit of history
The Palio has ancient origins dating back to the Middle Ages, but as it seen it today was held for the first time in 1656. Before it was a kind of bull-back or donkey-back races. But Piazza del Campo has always been the perfect background for any kind of race and game in Siena.
At first the Palio was held once per year on July 2nd and was called Palio di Provenzano in honor of Madonna of Provenzano, who has a church in Siena. Then in 1701 was added the second Palio held on August 16th and was called Palio dell’Assunta in honor of the Assumption of Mary.
The race today
The Palio di Siena is run by ten horses at a time, so not all seventeen contrade take part in the race on any occasion. The seven contrade that did not take part in that month of the previous year are automatically included; three more are chosen by draw.
A spectacular costumed pageant comes before the race, that is announced by the detonation of an explosive charge held at 7.30pm in July and at 7pm in August. Then nine horses, in an order only decided by lot immediately before the race starts, enter the space between two ropes. The tenth, the rincorsa, waits outside. When the rincorsa finally enters the space between the ropes the starter (mossiere) activates a mechanism that instantly drops the the front rope, called canapo. The mossa can take a very long time as deals have usually been made between various contrade and jockeys that affect when the rincorsa moves.
The jockeys ride the horses bareback for three laps of the Piazza del Campo. The filed is covered with several inches of dirt and tuff and the corners of which are protected with padded crash barriers for the occasion. The most dangerous part is the curve of San Martino that has an angle of 95 degrees. The part before the curve is downhill and angled.
The Palio is won by the horse who represents his contrada, and not by the jockeys. The winner is the first horse to cross the finish line and it happens sometimes to be a cavallo scosso, a horse with no jockey. The winner is awarded a banner of painted silk, that is called palio, which is hand-painted by a different artist for each race.
The palio is then carried on shoulder-high to the contrada to celebrate the victory. Celebrations can go on for the entire month.
Calendar of Palio di Provenzano 2012
During the three days before the Palio there are several tests (prove) that you can assist.
On June 29th at 12pm there is the assignment of the horses to the contrade that is chosen by draw. Then at 7.45 pm there is the first prova in Piazza del Campo.
On June 30th at 9am there is the second prova and at 5pm there is the religious parade of the Votive Candle. Then at 7.45 there is the third prova.
On July 1st the forth prova is at 9am and then at 7.45 there is the trial run. Then every single Sienese goes back to his contrada for the traditional dinner.
On July 2nd the day starts early with a mess for jockey at the Chapel in Piazza del Campo at 7pm. Then at 9am there is the provaccia, the last trial. Around 2.30pm in every contrada there is the public blessing of the horse and of the jockey. At 4pm Piazza del Campo is closed and you can access only from Via Duprè and at 6.30 it is definitely closed and no one can enter. At 5pm starts the costumed pageant and at 7.20pm starts the Palio!