10 tips about the Palio
Everybody knows what the Palio is. But how many of you know the details of this stunning event?
Here is a brief guide to learn some hidden “secrets” of this event!
The barberi are tiny wooden balls coloured with each Contrada colors: mainly used by children, they are the central part of the “Barberi game”, a sort of race played on a small wooden track, which is intended to simulate the real race. During many local events, the game is also played by adults too. You can buy for few euros (1 or 2) a ticket that represents each contrada (in total there are 17 balls and 17 tickets). If the ball that simulate the contrada of your ticket win, you will get a Bottle of Wine or a Prosciutto!
2- Abolished contradas and the actual ones
At present, there are 17 contrade in Siena. Along the centuries, though, they were a little bit more. Since 1729, six contrade have been abolished, probably because they along the decades fused together with some of the 17 remaining: they were the “Cock”, “Lion”, “Bear”, “Oak”, “Strongsword” and “Viper”. They are still remembered by 6 riders having their helmet lowered during the Historical Parade, which takes place in the hours before the Palio.
3- Museums of the Contrade
They are 17, one for each contrada, and contain the heritage of each contrada: traditional costumes, won banners, relics and much more. Each museum contain different items and provide visitors with various relics, coming from preceding Palios. They exist only thanks to the Contradaioli, which donate some money to preserve these expositions and work free in order to preserve these incredible treasures. A visit to these Museum is strongly recommended as the are a key to get in the Palio’s mood.
4- The blessing of the horse
The blessing of the horse is something quite weird, but it definitely has to be seen! Nowhere but in Siena you can see that! It happens between 3 and 3.30 p.m on the day of the Palio’s race in each Contrade’s church. Since many churches are really tiny, the precedence for the entrance is given to the Contradaioli. Should you are admitted to seeing the blessing, remember not to use Cameras with flash and to keep rigorously silent. The priest blesses both the jockey and the horse (which is allowed to get into the church) and in the final speech he says “go and come back as winner!”
5- Dinner of the “Prova Generale” (General practice)
The Palio lasts for 4 days. Every day there are 2 trials. The most important is the one of the evening before the Palio race, called “General Trial”. After this practice, each Contrada racing the Palio organize a dinner on the streets of each territory. Happiness is linked to the chance you got to win the race. Stronger is the horse and the jockey, louder are the cantos and the joy surrounds these fantastic parties on the streets. They represent a pillar of the folklore of Siena! Although generally devised for Contradaiolis, the dinner is opened to everybody. Booking in advance is compulsory.
6- The Seventeen contrade and the thirds of the city
Something that most people does not know about Siena is that its center is divided in 17 Contrade plus three thirds, named as “Third of Camollia”, “Third of San Martino” and “Third of the City”.
The Third of Camollia include: Bruco, Drago, Giraffa, Istrice, Lupa, Oca contrade. The Thirds of the city include: Aquila, Chiocciola, Onda, Pantera, Selva, Tartuca contrade. The Third of San Martino include: Civetta, Leocorno, Nicchio, Torre, Valdimontone contrade.
7- Mass of the Jockey
At 8 o’clock on the morning of the Palio’s race, just before the last practice (the “Provaccia”), a mass of the Jockey is celebrated in the small chapel at the bottom of the “Torre del Mangia” in Piazza del Campo. It is considered a way to bless the jockeys and the race.
The day of the race, the parade with historical costumes takes place along the street of Siena and than inside the Campo Square. Each contrada takes part the parade and the best performance is awarded with a sculpture made by craftsmen of Siena and it is called Masgalano. It is a very important prize as the members of each Contrada invest lots of their time preparing for the best performance.
9- The “Drappellone” (banner)
Every year, to celebrate the Palio an artist is hired to paint this banner. It is the prize for the Contrada winning the race. On the July’s Palio, the hired artist to paint the banner is generally Local painter, while on the August’s Palio the hired artist is mainly very famous and internationally well-known. Some of the most famous painters who deal with banner are Gottuso, Botero, Valdez and Nespolo.
10- Parade of the “Ceri” (Candles)
Religion plays an important role into the Palio race. On the 14th of August, all the Contrade running the race, are parading to bring the Palio Banner from the Town hall to the Cathedral. This mystical celebration is for asking the Virgin to protect them during the race and give them the victory. A big decorated Cero is carried by 4 children for each Contrada and donated to the Virgin.
Some useful tips
– Always remember not to get close to the horses. They are protected by crush barrier and a crowd of Contradaioli.
– Do not bother the Contradaioli with questions or photos. They consider the Palio a holy moment.
– Do not be sarcastic about Contradaioli’s anxiety before the start. Do not show your impatience if the preparation for the start gets too long.
If you are coming to Siena for the Palio, remember that on the day after the race the winners make a stunning parade to celebrate the victory! Stay one day more to fully enjoy the festival!