The Palio / Christian Sinibaldi
Ten horses and riders representing ten of the city wards compete in a three lap race around the Piazza Del Campo. There are seventeen contrada, or wards, in Siena. The Contrada are a cities within a city and provide a social structure, support network and civic identity. The Palio marks the apex of their rivalry.
With it’s own Parliament and assembly each Contrada is like a republic. The Priore is head of the Contrada, the Captain is the ministry of war and in charge of the Palio.
“The palio in fact is like a war.” It is neither a reenactment or a show put on for tourists. It’s real, and can be brutal.
Four days before the actual race the Tratta marks the opening day of the Palio. Forty horses race around the Campo, with just ten picked by the Captains. Selected by lottery each Contrada is given a horse.
Following the Tratta the trial races begin. There are six in all, twice a day, running up to the day of the Palio itself. Each evening the Contrada, even the ones that don’t run, hold the ‘cenini’ – small dinners. The night before the Palio is the main dinner – with the jockey too. With every passing day, the atmosphere and the tension build until the moment of the race. Ninety seconds later it’s all over but a victory lasts for ever and is celebrated throughout the following year.
Until the next Palio.