Even though Il Palio is now well known to tourists who now come from all over the world to witness it, the Sienese maintain an emotional commitment that makes the event seem as if it’s from another time. Despite the cameras and phones in the hands of everyone in the crowd, when you look over the entire piazza you experience an old-world sporting atmosphere with no trace of electronic signs or advertising. What catches your eye are the vivid colors of the traditional banners and costumes of the contrade.
Palio contradaioli line the balconies above the San Martino corner in Piazza del Campo.
More fans fill the windows and balconies above the piazza.
A sign reminds you of what isn’t allowed in Il Campo; these restrictions exist in part because once the infield is closed off several hours before each race, you can’t leave until the race is over. Supporters of the Bruco (Caterpillar) contrada save a prime viewing spot for their contrada at the Palio, at the rail near the finish line.
Supporters of the Nicchio (Shell) and Leocorno (Unicorn) contrade save some of the best finish-line viewpoints for the Palio. They tie their bandiera to the posts and railings so that their fellow contradaioli can easily find them.
Old men gossip on shaded bleachers between races.
Mothers watch over children eager to see the horses.
Supporters of the Torre (Tower) contrada sing (or taunt) passionately in the late afternoon sun of a Tuscan summer.
The Historical Procession (Corteo Storico) is a long, colorful, loud celebration of the culture of the contrade. The race starts only after until the Corteo Storico is over, and that can take two to three hours.
Costumes and flags create a riot of vivid color during the Corteo Storico.
This man sets up the mortar that’s fired to mark the start and end of each race. The very loud explosion will make you jump if you aren’t expecting it!
The infield crowd watches the horses in a furious chase around the track during the final race.
At the end of the Palio, contradaioli run down to rush the track and celebrate a decisive victory, or scream in defiance over a loss. At the Palio, there can be only one winner, and it is said that second place is worse than last place.
Next: Preparing the track