Although it may not seem like it, every moment of the Palio has defined schedules, every movement has its own rules, and every move has a rhythm that has been the same for centuries and for that very reason unique.
In keeping with the Palio logic, experiencing the Palio also means respecting its rhythms and enjoying the unforgettable moments.
First, the tratta, when horses are assigned to the barbaresco of each contrada in the Piazza del Campo. On the mornings of July 29 and Aug. 13 around 12:30 to 1 p.m., the contrade flock to the square and wait for luck-or whoever it may be-to award them the strongest horse.
The shouts and chants of the contradaioli accompany the horse out of the square to the stable, where for four days he will be the star.
The evidence, although they do not have the tension of the Palio in them, are good for understanding a little more about what will happen on July 2 and August 16: they take place in the morning and evening, and the dress rehearsal, the day before the Palio, sees the most people in the square.
Before the assignment, dawn on the 28th and 12th, the night trials are run: unmissable, precisely because 5 a.m. and because everything has yet to happen.
Only in August is the blessing of the candle celebrated with the children of the contrade parading and carrying the candles to the cathedral. This tradition dates back to the 1200s.
On the day of the Palio, if you are an early riser, don’t miss the jockey’s mass. From 9 a.m. to noon, every contrada museum and church is open to the public-a chance to immerse yourself in the history of the Palio.
In the early afternoon, witnessing the blessing of the horse in one of the churches of the running contrade gives you a unique feeling. Churches are generally small and priority should always be given to contradaioli; however, one can ask to attend the event. Absolutely forbidden to use flash.
For those who are fond of historical processions, the one in Siena starts from the Cortile della Prefettura around 4 p.m. and then continues to Via San Pietro, Casato di Sopra and Casato di Sotto. Siena’s streets are not known for their size, so be careful not to get in the way.
And finally, the Palio, a magical moment of the highest tension. Respect is a must, and if a contradaiolo tells you to move or do something, do it even if you don’t understand why.
The firing of the mortar marks the end of those terrible and fantastic minutes: one contrada alone has won, the others have lost. In the euphoria you take risks: wait until all the contrade have left, and if you see two groups of people facing each other lined up opposite each other, go as far away as possible.
In the evening, the festivities are wonderful to watch sitting on the stages in the Piazza where the colors of the victorious contrada are waved all night long or through the streets of the city following the palio hand-carried by the contradaioli.
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