Naomi's Italian Diary, Part 4

Naomi's Italian Diary
Part 4

Siena: Palio Day!! (continued)


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Return to Part 3 | Continue to Part 5 | Go directly to the running of the Palio

2 July(continued) Around 5:00 the Corteo, or parade of medieval costumes begins. I am incredibly lucky to have such a great view from the front row! The costumes were amazing, beautiful, detailed, made of silk, velvet, braids and lace. All the people in the parade were boys, representing their contrade, but they had to wear these horrible (albeit authentic, I suppose) wigs! Each contrada had a different hairstyle. First in each group was a mounted knight wearing the armour and colors of the contrada, riding a sturdy horse, then came the race horse that would represent them. The costumes are so elaborate and imaginative, with designs relevant to each contrada even on the knight's mask, and numerous other small details. Each contrada is also associated with a particular craft, such as weaving or goldsmithing and there were people to represent this as well. There are many flags and banners, as well. Each contrada has two boys who perform an intricate series of moves with large flags, which includes throwing the flags high in the air and then catching them or catching the other boy's flag. Each routine lasts about three or four minutes so it is easy to see how the whole parade could last 2 hours! Even the contrade who do not run have members in the Corteo, though no race horse and they did not do a flag routine. Each contrada's costumes seem more beautiful to me than the last! I am taking so many photos!

Finally, the Corteo is over and people begin pushing and shoving to get a better view for the race. The piazza was beginning to be whipped up to a frenzy and I am thinking that maybe being right on the fence is NOT such a good idea as there is so much pushing, it might be very dangerous. I saw several people fainting from a combination of the heat, the excitement and the pushing. They are carried out by paramedics and police, as onlookers shout "Bravo!" or "Brava!" to the injured person.

The track is cleared through the heroic efforts of the police. People are shouting, people are hanging from the windows of houses which surround the piazza, straining for a better view. The carabinieri ride past, as before. Then, the race horses enter the track! The next hour seemed endless, excrutiating. The start of the race is under the control of the judge, who ensures that the horses are brought to the start in the correct order and the race begins fairly orderly, with no cheating (as if this were possible). One rider, however, refused to bring his horse to the starting tape. Chiocciola (snail), would not enter if his arch-enemy Tartuga appeared to be in a favorable position. To do so would mean that Chiocciola might start the race at a disadvantage and he had apparently been coached by his contrada on this tactic. If your enemy is off-guard, enter. But Tartuga, which had entered earlier, was alert and in good position. Chiocciola's rider repeatedly refused to enter. The judge kept calling "Avanti!! Avanti Chiocciola!" (Enter! Enter!) to no avail.

This happened several times. Eventually the starter sent all the horses back off the track to the palazzo where they had waited during the Corteo. After some time he again brought them out to line up. In, out, in, out, over and over! It was amazing to watch the horses lining up at rope, which was just in front of my face! The riders hit each other with riding crops; they hit the other horses, trying to get them off guard and stir them up. Horses bit or kicked each other and kept slamming into the next horse. Not one horse or rider was still! I became very worried about Onda's grey horse. She kept tossing her head, foaming at the mouth, jumping around continually, possibly from having been given too many drugs before the race. I could not wait for the race to begin, just so it would be over, because the horses seemed to be suffering the most from this pre-race tension. People were pushing, shoving, shouting. I began to feel as if I might faint! I was continually being jammed up against the fence. This was all so different from the two prove I had seen, which had gone so smoothly and calmly, without a hitch. This was the real thing and to win was everything!

After this continued for over an hour, the judge lost his patience and decided to postpone the race until the following day! I didn't actually understand what was happening due to my almost non-existent knowledge of Italian, but all of a sudden people were leaping over the fences, running on the track, streaming out of the piazza, shouting, practically rioting. Finally someone explained it to me. Apparently this was only the second time such a thing had happened during this century! And it had to happen to me!

Go directly to the running of the Palio the next afternoon
See what I ended up doing after the commotion died down

All text and photographs Copyright 1995-2001 Naomi S. Smith