WHAT SHOULDN'T TOURISTS DO DURING THE DAYS OF THE PALIO?
For the Sienese, the days of the Palio are days of celebrating, but also of great tension, for this reason in certain situations it is good to be careful. In particular:
- Under no circumstances should you go near the horses.
- Do not disturb the contrada members during moments of great tension, for example, during the time they accompany the horse to the trials, during the minutes before the race or after the race if they are disillusioned or angry.
- In Piazza del Campo, do not put children on your shoulders the day of the Palio: that can block the view of the others (in general, it is not advisable to bring small children in the Piazza, due to the crowds).
- Do not make sarcastic comments regarding the tension of the contrada members before the start of the race, do not protest or complain instantly if its takes a long time for the start of the race to take place.
- If the contrada members ask you to move or get away from a certain area, do as they request.
WHY DO WE SAY THE "DAYS OF THE PALIO", IN THE PLURAL?
The Palio is not an event that is limited to just the horse race on July 2 and August 16: we can even say that for the Sienese the Palio lasts all year long. By the Days of the Palio, we mean, in general, the period of 4 days that begin with the assignment of the horses and ends with the actual race (June 29 - July 2 and August 13 - August 16), in which the majority of the Palio events occur.
WHAT DO THE TRIALS FOR THE SELECTION OF THE HORSES ENTAIL?
These are the trials with between 5 and 6 horses in each trial, whose scope is to verify the condition of the horses presented for the Palio (usually about 30 horses) and their suitability to run in the Piazza del Campo: they are not really actual races among the horses. They usually take place between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. and afterwards the Captains of the Contradas that are participating in the Palio choose 10 horses for the Palio race (they do not necessarily choose the best horses: they can decide to have a healthy and trustworthy horse instead of a strong horse that could cause problems in the type of race situation in the Piazza.)
HOW ARE THE HORSES ASSIGNED TO THE CONTRADAS?
Once the 10 horse have been chosen, they are assigned to the 10 contrada that are participating in the Palio by a drawing. (Lady luck has always had her hand in this festival.) The drawing normally takes place between 12:30 and 13:30, in the Piazza del Campo crowded to the brim. It is a fundamental moment because only after they know which is the horse that they will run the race with, can the Contradas put their race strategies into action. It is therefore a moment of great tension, as is demonstrated by the exultation of the contrada members who have had the luck of drawing a good horse and of the delusion of those who have received a horse that is not considered as good.
WHAT TAKES PLACE AT THE TRIALS?
Each Contrada brings its horse to the Piazza, accompanied by a tight group of contrada members and their chants. This happens 1 & ½ hours before the time of the actual trial is scheduled to take place. First the track is cleared and all the accesses to the Piazza are closed and the trials take place simulating the actual Palio or in any case, completing the distance of "three times around the track", but it is not a real race, in as far as the outcome has no value: the purpose is to permit the horses and jockeys to adapt as best as possible to the track and the type of situation presented by the actual Palio race.
WHAT TIME DO THE TRIALS TAKE PLACE?
At 9 a.m. for the trials in the morning (the second, the fourth and the "Provaccia"). For the afternoon trials (the first, the fourth and the "Prova Generale") at 19:45 for the July Palio and at 19:15 for the August Palio.
WHAT TIME DO YOU NEED TO ARRIVE IN THE PIAZZA TO WATCH THE TRIALS?
For the morning trials, it is sufficient to arrive in the Piazza between 8:30 - 8:45. For the afternoon trials it is advisable to be in the Piazza 1 hour before the expected start of the trial, unless you want to be caught up in the crowds bringing their horses into the Piazza from the various contradas. If, on the other hand, you want to watch the arrival of the horses in the Piazza, it is best to enter after the arrival of the last contrada's horse, about ½ hour before the start of the trial, possibly from via Rinaldini (one of the last accesses to be closed off.)
WHAT HAPPENS IF IT RAINS?
If the track is wet and is not considered suitable for use, the trials will not take place and a green flag will be hung on the front of City Hall (Palazzo Pubblico) to advise the public. The trials that do not take place will not be made up at a later date, so, as it has already happened in the past, we can arrive on the date of the Palio without having had any trials even run.
WHAT HAPPENS IF IT RAINS ON THE DAY OF THE PALIO?
If it rains on the day of the Palio the race will not be run, above all to safe-guard the well-being of the horses and jockeys. A green flag will be hung on the front of Palazzo Pubblico to advise the public and the race will be run on the following day,
weather conditions permitting.
WHAT HAPPENS ON THE FIRST DAY OF THE PALIO? (June 29 & August 13)
The "tratta" takes place in the morning, where the trials to choose the horses are run (usually about 30 horses are present to begin with). The ten horses will be selected out of this group and in the late morning, the drawing will be held to assign a horse to each of the contradas running in the Palio. In the late afternoon, the first trial is run.
WHAT HAPPENS ON THE SECOND DAY OF THE PALIO? (June 30 & August 14)
The second trial is run in the morning, the third trial in the late afternoon. On the afternoon of Aug. 14, before the trial, the Procession of the Candles takes place, during which time the painted Palio banner is brought to the Cathedral (instead in July the Palio is brought to the church of Santa Maria in Provenzano).
WHAT HAPPENS ON THE THIRD DAY OF THE PALIO? (July 1 & August 15)
The fourth trial is run in the morning, the fifth trial in the late afternoon, also called the "Prova Generale", which is preceded by a special exhibition of the mounted Carabinieri charging half-way around the Piazza in full dress, swords drawn. After the trial, all of the participating contradas hold a special dinner known as the "Cena della Prova Generale". The dinners are held out in the open air, in squares or on city streets, in the various neighborhoods, and for this reason they are not open to pedestrian traffic for the major part of that day.
CAN PEOPLE NOT BELONGING TO THE CONTRADAS PARTICIPATE IN THE "Cena della Prova Generale"?
Yes, it is possible, but you must make a reservation and pay several days before hand in the society or club house of the Contrada in which you wish to eat dinner in. See addresses.
WHAT HAPPENS ON THE FOUTH DAY OF THE PALIO? (July 2 & August 16)
The sixth trial is run in the morning, also called the "Provaccia", preceded by the Mass for the Jockeys, which is celebrated in the Piazza del Campo. In the afternoon, in the church of each contrada participating in the Palio, the benediction of the horse takes place. Following this, the "Comparse" or contrada members dressed in the historical costumes of their contrada meet in the Prefettura (near the cathedral) which is where the historical parade leaves from to reach the Piazza. So there is the exhibition of the mounted Carabinieri in Piazza del Campo followed by the historical parade (about 2 hours long) and finally the "carriera" or Palio race itself.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO SEE THE BENEDICITON OF THE HORSE?
In general, the contrada churches are very small and, therefore, for the benediction of the horse, the precedence is given to the contrada members. You can try to ask permission to be admitted inside (however, permission can be given or denied depending on the circumstances). Whoever is able to eventually enter, must remember that they are present for a very particular moment, both delicate and very emotional for the contrada members: during the presence of the horse in the church, ABSOLUTE SILENCE is requested and the USE OF FLASH IS FORBIDDEN.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO WATCH THE HISTORICAL PARADE ALONG THE ROUTE FROM THE PREFETTURA TO THE PIAZZA DEL CAMPO?
Yes, but it is necessary to stay close to the buildings along the sides of the roads so as not to get in the way of the parade as it passes. Keep in mind that there are large crowds and the streets are very narrow. The route of the Parade before entering into the Piazza is: Cortile delle Prefettura - Piazza del Duomo - via del Capitano - via S. Pietro - Casato di Sopra - Casato di Sotto.
AT WHAT TIME DOES THE HISTORICAL PARADE LEAVE FROM THE PREFETTURA?
Between 16 and 16:30 p.m. in July. Between 15:30 and 16 p.m. in August.
HOW DO YOU GET INTO THE PIAZZA TO WATCH THE PALIO?
You can get into the Piazza from any entrance before the Historical Parade comes into the Piazza, or after it has begun its entrance, you can go through the opening from via Duprè (the entrance from the Onda contrada). Keep in mind that this last entrance; it is very narrow and to walk through it can be very problematic (or even dangerous for people suffering from heart problems, children and in general people who are physically frail) due to the great crowds that form. In addition, once you have entered into the Piazza, it is even more problematic to leave the Piazza before the beginning of the race. For that reason it is very important to carefully evaluate whether or not to enter or only to go in if one is determined to remain until the end of the Palio race.
ARE THERE ANY BATHROOMS INSIDE THE PIAZZA?
No, there are not; so organize yourselves accordingly.
ARE THERE ANY DRINK VENDORS INSIDE THE PIAZZA?
In general, there are three stands that sell fresh drinks and snacks and are easy to locate.
CAN YOU BRING CHAIRS INTO THE PIAZZA?
No, it is absolutely forbidden to take chairs or stools into the Piazza to sit or stand on.
AT WHAT TIME DO YOU NEED TO GO INTO THE PIAZZA IF YOU WANT TO ARRIVE BEFORE THE START OF THE HISTORICAL PARADE?
The entrance of the Historical Parade into the Piazza is scheduled for a short time after 5 p.m. (or just after 4:30 p.m. for the August Palio). But since they start closing the entrances half an hour before its arrival, it is good to be inside that Piazza by 4:30 p.m. in July and by 4 p.m. in August. This means about a 3 hour wait; considering the season, it is appropriate to be prepared to affront the heat which can be quite intense with such a large crowd.
IF A PERSON FEELS ILL WHILE INSIDE THE PIAZZA, WHERE CAN THEY RECEIVE ASSISTANCE?
Inside the Piazza, or rather, in front of the starting line, at the curve of S. Martino, Gavinone and Casato there are volunteers for emergencies; inside the Fountain of Joy there are other volunteers along with a doctor and two nurses. Two other doctors and nurses are inside of the white Chapel in the Piazza, which is in front of Palazzo Pubblico.
IF A PERSON FEELS ILL WHILE IN ONE OF THE MAIN STREETS SURROUNDING THE PIAZZA, WHERE CAN THEY RECEIVE ASSISTANCE?
On the main streets and those most frequented by pedestrians, there are medical stations: in Piazza della Posta, at the Logge del Papa, in Piazza del Duomo and in Piazza Tolomei.
AT WHAT TIME IS THE RACE USUALLY SCHEDULED TO START?
At 7:30 p.m. in July and at 7 p.m. in August. The actual start of the race can take place much later than this, if the lining up of the horses at the starting line or "Mossa" are delayed or if there are false starts.
UNTIL WHAT TIME IS IT POSSIBLE TO ENTER THE PIAZZA FROM THE ONDA CONTRADA AND WHAT DOES IT ENTAIL?
In theory it is possible to go into the Piazza from the Onda contrada entrance until a few minutes before the actual time indicated for the race. However, you must keep in mind that this is the only entrance still open and that thousands of other people will be trying to enter there at the last minute. It is therefore advisable to arrive well in advance and be ready to wait up to half an hour before actually being able to get into the Piazza due to the great crowds trying to enter all at once along this narrow street.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO ENTER INTO THE PIAZZA IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING THE PALIO RACE?
It is not advisable to enter onto the earthen tufo track right after the race, to avoid interfering with the celebrations of the winning contrada and to keep at a distance from any fights that could develop. Also be very careful of any eventual rider-less horses that could still be running around the track.
WHAT HAPPENS RIGHT AFTER THE PALIO RACE HAS BEEN RUN?
The contrada members of the winning contrada bring the Palio to the church of Santa Maria in Provenzano (in July) and to the Duomo (in August) to sing thanks the Virgin Mary; then they take it back to their contradas and then constantly parade the Palio banner through the streets of the town, accompanied by songs, drums and flags.
WHY DO THE WINNERS WEAR PACIFIERS AND CARRY BABY BOTTLES?
Because the victory of the Palio is considered like the birth of a baby and so the contrada members themselves automatically become new-borns. For the Sienese the Palio is the evolution of the life of a human being (from infancy to adulthood).
This situation is underlined by the fact that the contrada that has not won for the longest time is called grandmother or "Nonna".
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO SEE THE PALIO?
It is free to watch the Palio from the middle of the Piazza. The shape of the Piazza is that of a shell, so that there is discrete visability even for those people who are not that tall. The Sienese generally go into the center of the Piazza, also because it is there that you can experience the greatest emotional impact. If you prefer to watch the Palio from the bleacher seats, the balconies or the windows over-looking the Piazza, you must pay.
HOW CAN YOU PURCHASE TICKETS FOR THE BLEACHER SEATS, THE BALCONIES AND THE WINDOWS OVER-LOOKING THE PIAZZA?
As there is no one general ticket office for the ticket sales, you need to contact the individual owners directly or ask for information from your hotel or bed & breakfast hosts. Remember, however, that it is not always an easy task to find tickets.