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More informations from the site: Comune di Siena
by Senio Sensi "Come, dear children, run this Palio
and run it so that only one can possess it." St. Catherine of Siena
The day of the Palio (July 2 and August 16) the city awakens early. It knows that a special day has dawned where, on an organizational level, everything has to run like clockwork because Siena must be prepared for a genuine assault on the part of a wide array of individuals, from lovers of the Palio to curious and inexpert pilgrims; from tourists who, between their trips to Florence and Venice, have tried to squeeze in, just for this one day, a short side-trip to Siena just to . . . take a look at these Sienese and this crazy Festival of theirs which - who knows why - has the whole world talking. Obviously this type of admirer is not particularly welcome since he or she does not have the capability of approximating even a credible image of the Palio and of the Contrade.
But even for those who have followed the rituals of the preceding days and want, and are able, to appreciate it, the day begins early. The contrada members, the real ones, have slept very little: because on the one hand they wish to live to the fullest an eve of the palio which, on an emotional level, is extremely intense while on the other hand they do not want to miss any of the activities which are so rich in meaning; the purpose is also to guess which Contrada is going to win the Palio. The means of judgement, in this analysis, are the qualities of the pairing of the horse and jockey (it is de rigueur that the horse comes first . . .); the words and even the nuances which the Captains have insinuated in their speeches; the amounts of money available in the individual Contrade (in the modern Palio, however, this is a variable of minor consideration with respect to the past); and the reading of signs and portents from which one can divine whether Victory has already been DESTINED for someone. It occasionally happens, through sheer coincidence, that the "signs" find their confirmation in the running of the race, but even when that does not occur no one is discouraged and for the very next occasion they will go running to the soothsayers who, among other things, help to take away some of the drama from the ritual.
The large bell of the Mangia Tower, Sunto, by 8 AM has already announced to the city and its guests that an exceptional day has commenced; few are the times other than the day of the Palio, in fact, that the Great Bell peals forth its sound. At the foot of the Tower jockeys, Captains and their assistants attend the Jockeys' Mass celebrated by His Eminence, the Archbishop of Siena, who will invoke the protection of the Madonna for man and beast in the coming race. The "provaccia", or sixth heat, ensues, so-called because no jockey will be so crazy as to really try out his mount only ten hours before such an important race. After the heat the official signing-up of the jockeys who will take part in the race occurs. In an office of City Hall, far from the clamors of a city in total frenzy, Mayor, Captains and jockeys meet to read over the more important sections of the Palio Regulations and for each Contrada formally to enroll its own jockey. The ceremony is carried out by presenting the jacket that the jockey will wear, following which his name and address and, in particular, his jockey name, will be registered. This is an unwritten rule which, like so many others, the Sienese follow. From this moment on theContrade will not be able to replace the jockey, not even in the event of an accident to the jockey.
At the end there are the final clandestine meetings among the heads of the Contrade and then between them and the jockeys: the costs of the pacts are confirmed; final messages are sent to those who may be able to block during the course of the race; and final plans are made for carrying out the running of the race. There will be economically enticing proposals made, especially in the case of the jockey who will be "di rincorsa", that is, in the tenth position and who will start from the "canapi" (ropes) in effect starting the race; these proposals will be made to entice him to favor or not to favor a given Contrada. In the meantime spontaneous parades of young people march about the city singing anthems about their own Contrada and presaging every imaginable doom and damnation against their adversary . . .
Lunch is usually not taken at home; the more fortunate friends andacquaintances who live in the Historic Center of the City will host those who do not wish to miss even one moment of what is happening inside the contrada.
Sunto rings his warning in the early hours of the afternoon as a sign to the young men that it is time for them to "vest", donning the rich costumes in order to take their place in the Historic Procession. It is the highest honor for a young man to be chosen to wear the contrada uniform and it is also a sign of the faith which the leaders of the Contrada have in him. The blessing of the horse takes place next, in the Contrada Church: it is a moment of high emotion and is a classical example of how the blending of the sacred and the profane in the Palio confirms the uniqueness of the festival and its many more or less hidden meanings.
The cry of the chaplain, who as if in invocation, exorts the animal to his maximum efforts ("Go, and return a winner"), stirs the spirits of the leaders and members of the Contrada in a profound manner.
The Comparsa (the name given to the group of costumed young men who will take part in the Procession) leaves the Contrada for a brief salute to the authorities after which the Historic Procession, with prearranged order, is formed and begins its entrance into the Piazza from the Bocca del Casato. Over two hours in length and the tension soars: the sound of the trumpets and of the Palio Band which repeats, almost obsessively, the splendid notes of the Palio Anthem; the slow and solemn pace of the Procession; the frenzied waving of the scarves of all the Contrade; and overall the sound of Sunto which accompanies the whole display, evoke emotions which are not easily found in other parts of the world. It is at this moment that even the unprepared realize that this is an authentic festival of the people of Siena, not performed for guests, but deeply felt nonetheless.
The War Chariot finally makes its entrance into the Piazza with the Palio in triumph. Invocations redouble, the fever increases and the Sienese, who have so anxiously awaited this instant, wish almost absurdly that it will end quickly to loosen this last knot. The most important.
One last look at the little bandierino of the Mangia Tower which, according to some, moves not according to the direction of the wind, but rather as a final sign towards which section of the city the Palio banner will go; and then comes the final sbandierata of the ensigns. Finally a silence filled with anxiousness comes over the Piazza. Sunto has stopped ringing; the Sienese hold their collective breaths and the last formalities seem an eternity. And suddenly horses and jockeys in the stupendous colors of their Contrade exit from the Cortile of the Podestà. The Campo is a palette, a caleidoscope; everyone looks in the same direction while the race horses go slowly to the ropes. The order of entry between the ropes, most important, is determined by a device which guarantees secrecy and honesty.
Finally the redeeming race; people give vent to repressed passions andemploy gestures and language which would be unthinkable in normal circumstances. The race horses color the earthen track but the contrada member has eyes only for his own Contrada and looks as if he would give an encourging push to both horse and jockey.
A little more than a minute and it's all over: for the winners there isn't even time to hear for the last time the Palio Anthem and to see their own flag, the only one, displayed from the windows of the Palazzo Pubblico. All together, hugging, they run to Provenzano or to the Cathedral to sing a "Te Deum" which is perhaps a bit "incoherent" but thrillingly alive and grateful as never before.
For the losers, in other words, for all the rest, the Festival is truly over. It will begin again shortly with a reassuring continuity, just like that of the seasons. In Siena it is always the season of the Palio which brings with it hope, faith, sacrifice, warfare and friendship.
This is the most fitting interpretation of that phenomenon which is the Palio.
Definitions of Palio Terminology