These days many visitors are coming to Siena because of the Palio, a historical, unique festival, a horse race run in Siena main square, Piazza del Campo. It is a show of colors and high emotions, ending up in the victory of one of the 10 neighborhoods, called contrade.
The Palio is run twice a year, one on July the second ,called Palio di Provenzano dedicated to the Madonna of Provenzano and the other Palio dell’Assunta in honour of the Assumption of Mary, Christ’s mother.
Yesterday, Saturday, August the13th, 2011 Siena officially started the Palio dell’Assunta. The horses were assigned by draw to the 10 neighborhoods. On the 16th of August the race day will be starting with a special mass blessing the horses and in the afternoon a pageant, streaming through the very heart of the town will end up in the Piazza del Campo. Each contrada wears its traditional costumes and a performance of flag throwers follows.
The clue of the festival is, of course, the run itself. The bareback jockeys ride the track three times for about 90 seconds. They are allowed to use their whip to stir the horse up or even to disturb the other horses and riders. That’s the controversial point often focused in the passionate debates by animalists who, rightly or wrongly, side against this festival without considering the history of the town. Sometimes the jockeys themselves are thrown off their horses and it can happen that the animal alone can reach the victory un mounted. The award is a silk banner, called drappellone, painted by an artist for the occasion which becomes a symbolic property to be jealously garded by the contradaioli.