Perhaps one of the more famous - but not the only one for sure - is the re-enactment takes place in the famous square "Piazza del Campo" in Siena, Tuscany. Held twice during the year in Siena, on the July 2nd and on August 16th, you will find a one of a kind horse race. The entire square in Siena is covered in sand and the route is well marked. Make a note on your Tuscan calendar of the main phases of the Palio, there are four days of celebration.
It's important to know that only ten of the seventeen "contrade" (like districts of the town) run each time and that their participation is decided by a draw, which takes place four days prior to each Palio - this phase is called TRATTA. The "contrade" is the way Siena has divided its town up into competing factions. Each with their own flag, colors and church - where most of them take the horse itself in for the blessing. This is more than a team, its is a life. Every phase of the citizen life, from Baptism to Marriage, etc is shared with their own "contrade" community. Above all things, their preparation for the PALIO and finally the victory. The contrade which wins (two per year) celebrates for the whole year.
Before the race itself, there are 6 trials. For the next 3 days prior to each Palio, there are two trials, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The last one of these 6 trials is called "Prova Generale". The morning of the PALIO, is runned the last trial at all, called "Provaccia" (which could be translated as "hard trial").
Aproximatelly 3 or 4 hours before the race, there is the Historical Parade. Everybody who went there to whach the Palio must be inside the square - which is totally fenced - or will be kept outside, because all gates will be closed and remain only the one from where the characters of the parade will come in, walk around the whole square and leave. The Parade is composed of characters who represent the way of life during the Siennese Republic, the most glorious period of Siena before fell into the domination of the Florentine Grand Duchy.
There are horses, knights, heralds, musicians, flag flyers and on the top of a gallant chariot marches the PALIO - it is a painting on a large cloth representing Siena, the contrades and the Virgin Mary celebrated in this occasion. The July 2nd celabrates the Virgin Mary of Provenzano and the August 16th celebrates the Assumption of Virgin Mary.
The Parade ends with a presentation of representatives flag flyers of each one of the 17 contrades of Siena. Each one with its colours and its own flags make their demonstration which will finish with the "Sbandierata della Vittoria" (the Victory Flag Show). There is a leggend that says that who throws the flag higher will be the winner.
They then draw close to the starting point, where two hemp ropes have been stretched across to allow the jockeys to line up between them. The entrance order is decided by luck: in fact, there is a special bottle-type mechanism, with a neck-piece grafted into an oval container, once the bottle is turned over, the balls randomly line up along the neck-piece, in this way deciding on the order of the start. This procedure is carried out three times so that the starter is able to use the two reserve starts if the first one is not possible.
Nine contrade are called to line up between the ropes according to the order of the draw, while the tenth take a run-up (only when he decides on the right moment) in the way deciding the moment of the start. At that point, the starter lowers the front rope and opens the race.
If the start is invalid, a cracker is let off to stop the horses which will then have to return to the starting point. The horses have to circle the track three times, for around 1000 metres and the first one to finish is the glorious victor, approved by the three winning's judges. Even a horse, without its jockey, can carry its contrada to victory, because actually the horse is the winner, not the jockey!
For more information you can also visit:
IL PALIO DI SIENA website
The prize is the Palio - the painting - which the contrade will keep forever in its museum together will all its historical prizes. The best comes after the race - the winner's party! The party is organized in the contrada place, each one has its own space where they reunion for parties and dinners, close to their Church. A lot of good wine is distributed to everybody the whole night. Besides, they make their own parties with music, wine, stands with food and much more in the weekends for the rest of the year.
The following reading can give you more info about Siena Palio: All about the Palio of Siena.
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