The Palio (Palio di Siena) is the main event in the life of the Tuscan city of Siena.
Many cities and towns in Italy, in particular, Tuscan ones, have a tradition of holding contests in the spirit of medieval tournaments on the day when their patron saint is honored. The patroness of Siena is the Virgin Mary; that is why the Palio horse race takes place on July, 2 and August, 16. The first date is the Marian Apparition, and the second one commemorates the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.
If you want to share the true spirit of the Palio, you should visit Siena long before the horse race.
According to the Sienese people, the preparations for the Palio are made all year round. Women sew costumes; and men, having a glass of beer at a tavern, make up offensive poems to break the spirit of their rivals.
The preparation for the Palio kindles the hot-tempered Italians not less than the contest itself. People are ready to do a lot to win, even to bribe, to blackmail, and to get involved in intrigues.
Representatives of city districts, contrade, hire professional jockeys to participate in the competition. Their names and compensation are kept as a big secret. The secrecy is easily explained by the fear that rivals will outbid or buy over the rider. The culmination is that on the eve of the contest the Sienese people keep their jockeys under vigilant surveillance.
The riders don't know which horse they will get until drawing lots on the eve of the contest. It is remarkable that as high bred racers, so working horses are provided for the race. Though it is not possible to influence the choice, you can still influence the condition of the horse.
There were incidents, when horses were sedated, given laxatives, or even injured. That is why after drawing lots a veterinarian and representatives of the contrada keep a close eye on the condition of their horse and don't allow anyone strange to approach the animal.
The race is not typical as a horse may win even if it finishes without its rider. Actually, it is more than likely because the rules allow to use the whip not only to speed up the horse, but also to unhorse rivals.
The Palio in Siena is a rather tough competition. A big conciliatory dinner is held on the eve of the race. However, the intentions of the participants are often not peaceful. Representatives of the contrade keep up making intrigues, and try to make secret treaties.
The air is full of excitement. Siena is preparing for the Palio.