The emotions, the emotions of “Senesi”, those emotions that a viewer who is not from Siena can only guess but never live in his life.
I have taken private and personal tours to Siena several times, in different times of the year, and I attended both Palios, Provenzano in July and Assunta in August, but the air of the Palio, you can almost grab it throughout the year. Sometimes even in the nights of January, when turning the corner of a street in the center the echo of a song arises, at first light, then stronger, and all voices come together for the invective against the enemy or to remember a triumph .
Even in winter the Palio is in the air, but the Palio lives his real days in summer. Everything begins on a late June morning: the Senesi that overlook the streets can see workers at work, spreading the turf, recovered from the municipality’s warehouse, on stone slabs, slowly, shovelful by shovelful. The news spread across the city and the yellow attached to shoes indicates that the guy did not resist the urge to walk again on the turf cover advancing all along the ring of Piazza del Campo.
On the square, on June 29th, three days before the Palio of July, and on August 13th, three days before the Palio of the Assumption, the “tratta” takes place, including several operations: horses brought to the veterinary examination in the square, the choice of the 10 most appropriate ones by the captains of the 10 participating “Contrada” (districts) in the Palio, and finally the draw to match the horses to the Contradas. Yes, because only 10 of the 17 districts will run the Palio, while the others earn the right to participate in the following year's Palio.
The day of the Palio begins with the Mass of the jockey, celebrated on the turf: the Archbishop of Siena asks God's protection on the jockeys, and after the last test, called "provaccia" because at the last moment no one wants to risk, contradaioli return to their districts. In the early afternoon, the blessing of the horse in the church of the district: "Go and return a winner," the priest says in tense silence with all the people of the Contrada gathered around him. After that the extras, young people representing the district in the parade, move towards the center of the city.
Finally, here we are. The charge of a squad of carabinieri vanishes in a twinkle of unsheathed swords, and soon the great bell of Torre del Mangia begins to toll, a hollow sound that envelops the people in the Piazza and then slides away to the edges of the town. Slow and solemn, the parade enters the court, in remembrance of the ancient Senese freedom. Then, the 10 riders mount on horseback, take the whip showing it immediately to the crowd, and set off to the start, to the “mossa”: once again fate is sovereign, it fixes the order of entry between the ropes and then determines who will have a good place and who a bad one, who will be your immediate opponent beside you, enemy or friend. The horses are nervous, between the ropes, but much of that nervousness is triggered by the jockeys who have not yet "settled down", and in general the starter has to call all horses out of the ropes and back in many times, until the right start. The rope falls, and the horses are launched. All together to the curve of San Martino, the most fearsome, and then the descent towards the town, and the ascent to the second curve. Once, twice, three times. And even if the jockey falls, it is not decisive: the "shaken" horse usually continues its run and may end up in front of all and win the race. One Contrada wins, all the others lose: being second here does not make sense, is not an honor. The honor here is only for the winner. To show to the entire city the triumph, to unleash terrible teasing against the enemy. In Siena, the dream lives twice a year, but it is a dream that no one will ever forget.
P.S. by the way, see Palio di Siena in the opening scenes of the James Bond’s movie Quantum of Solace (. But pay attention: the first scene with camera coming from water and the following chase in the tunnels is not from the Siena area as it seems, that is upper Lake Garda.