Siena is a charming medieval city at any time of year, and its character really comes alive in the days leading up to Il Palio.
The Torre del Mangia is Siena’s most recognizable landmark. If you climb the steps to the top, you can look down to Il Campo and then up to the Duomo and the Tuscan countryside beyond the city.
Newspaper headlines announce the latest news about the Palio; Corriere di Siena reports on a fight between members of Bruco and Giraffa that I saw in the piazza after a prova (test race). At a café, people catch up with their favorite newspapers and magazines.
The gelaterias are all busy during the Palio, especially because it’s the middle of a hot summer. Bakeries and cafés also work extra hard to feed the crowds.
A shop sells panforte, a sort of fruitcake believed to have been invented in Siena in the 13th century. Panforte is typically available in a variety of flavors. Each shop tends to have its own proprietary recipe.
A woman minds the flowers in her window, and an enshrined painting of Jesus watches over the street.
The mirror of a parked motorbike catches the image of a nearby bell tower.
A man reclines on the ancient marble of an old street while working on a 21st-century laptop computer.
On my early trips to Europe, these phone rooms would be busy. Now they’re used only by the rare few who don’t have their own mobile phones. Also, I never understood the irregular spacing of the phones on the wall.
A poster announces the Palio dell’Assunta of 2011 and the 10 contrade that will compete. Another poster describes the seating sections available in the bleachers and how much they cost. Tickets range from 190 to 300 Euros, which is why the majority of spectators stand for free in the infield.
In the week leading up to the Palio, you may see contrada marching through the streets; the man in the first picture wears the costume of Contrada del Montone (Ram). I also encountered men carefully maneuvering the large wooden Carroccio (Carriage), which will later be pulled by oxen to carry dignitaries and the Palio banner around the Il Campo race track just before the final Palio race.
Guards in traditional armor stand watch outside the Cortile del Podestá. It’s empty at the moment, but it’s where the horses emerge before each race.
In a shop window, a television silently plays recordings of past Palio races, and fans will stop to watch them. Around the corner from the Giraffa rehearsal dinner the night before the Palio, a woman finds a moment of peace. (In her hand is a microphone labeled C3T, which stands for Canale 3 Toscana…she’s a television presenter.)
Next: Flags of the contrade