Siena, a tranquil and quiet city during the winter months, changes face with the arrival of summer and the explosion of enthusiasm for the Palio. It is the most important feast in the city, a race of horses in the heart of the historical center, in Piazza del Campo, where ten of the seventeen districts that make up the city challenge one another, from July 2 to August 16, in honor of the Virgin Mary. The award for the winner is a silky painted drape, the Palio, that on July 2 will be dedicated to the Madonna of Provenzano. But the competitive aspect and the race in the field are only the tip of the iceberg which, at its basis, is made up of the work and the activities of the districts (contrade), true soul and pulsating heart of the city during the entire year. In the days of the feast, the atmosphere in the city heats up. On June 29, for the Palio of July, the horses are assigned randomly to the districts that take part in the race. It is the first moment when fortune, the true protagonist of the feast, makes a decisive verdict for the final victory. Even if anything can happen during the Palio, having a good horse raises the possibility for a victory. After the “tratta”, when the horses are assigned, the days that precede the Palio are made up of rehearsals, one in the morning, one in the evening, when the jockeys try their horses before the decisive run, the evening of July 2. In the districts, during the days of the feast, dinners, songs and moments of gathering animate the streets of the city. Until the day of the Palio when the “historical walk” and the race magically renew this unique appointment through which Siena relives her glorious past.
It is possible to attend the Palio free of charge from inside the Piazza del Campo. We suggest you to reach the Piazza around at least 4.30 pm (unless you want to find a place at the columns, at the border of the track of tuff, which are usually occupied from the morning, especially those close to the Mossa – where the race starts – and Fonte Gaia – the fountain).
Inside of the square you can buy drinks to cool off, but there are no public toilets. We strongly suggest you to provide water and drinks and take at least a hat to protect yourself from the sun. For the large crowd that will reach the square and the heat, we do not recommend to bring small children to attend the Palio in the Piazza del Campo.
There are also more convenient locations to see the Palio, with entrance fee. To purchase tickets for the tribune or balconies overlooking the square, try contacting the Siena Tourist Information Office or directly to homeowners, who often offer refreshments with typical Sienese sweets.
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