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  • Angela Louie and Allan de la Plante

The Palio: People

There are a lot of players that are an integral part of the Palio. Of course there is the horse and jockey. Jockeys are not necessarily part of the contrada they ride for but the contrada makes a final announcement about its choice of jockey by the morning of the race. Each jockey wears the colours of the contrada they are representing and they ride the horses bareback. Shown here are Selva (the Forest), Onda (the Wave), and Nicchio (the Shell).

The horses are chosen by the judges. They are bred to be able to run in this kind of race, on sand around a piazza and also with the temperament to withstand the crowds and chaos that goes along with this kind of event. Each contrada is drawn the horse that they will ride on the Thursday before the Sunday race. This gives each contrada an equally fair chance of winning.

Each contrada also chooses members who will participate in the processions. The most flamboyant part of this is the flag ceremony performed by young men.

On the day of the race, each contrada brings its horse and jockey for a blessing by a priest. Most of these rituals are held indoors. Oca (the goose) is the only contrada that performs its blessings outside.

Prior to the race events, teams of workers have prepared the piazza, filling the outside track with fine sand and wetting it down so it forms a solid clay-like surface for the horses.

At the piazza itself, many people are involved in ensuring that the race goes off without a hitch. Workers put up and take down the stands before and after each practice.

There are the people who set up the starting ropes in front of and behind the riders and who release them at the beginning of the race.

There are the members of the police who manage the crowds. When the race is about to start, they form one line at one point in the track and another line moves around the track, guiding people to move inside the piazza or to the stands.

Behind the police the cleaners sweep the track of any garbage before the race starts.

In the stands themselves, groups of schoolchildren from each contrada cheer and sing and challenge other contradas. Many of the spectators wear the scarves of the contrada they are part of or cheering for.

The press photographers take their places at various points around the track. It is a dangerous job as they are situated inside the track where the horses are running. All of the press and video personnel are from Siena. Allan is one of the first foreign photographers given permission to cover the Palio.

Dignitaries, leaders of contradas, and leaders of the community circle the track and are given recognition by the crowd.

Last but not least are the spectators. They are from all parts of Siena and more and more from outside Siena. The reserved stands are filled with Sienese but the central area of the piazza is crowded with thousands of spectators. Even during the several practices prior to the race, people come to cheer and watch their horse take to the track. And it is this crowd of people that will jump over the gates, rush the track and surround their horse and jockey after each practice and after the Palio itself, singing and cheering loudly filling the air with intense and electric excitement.

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