The daily events and rituals associated with the Palio are (usually) on a fixed schedule that is predictable from one Palio to the next. A useful overview of the four days of the Palio is found here: Palio Time Schedules.
Here is my own version of the typical schedule (below), based on my personal experiences and observations. Please also see my expanded Schedule with TOM’S TIPS for each event, also found in the upper menu of the web site.
PALIO SCHEDULE FOR JULY/AUGUST
June 28 & August 12 (Occasionally begins the day before as well)
- Prove Regolamentate (Regulated Trials). 5:30 – 7:30 am. Horses can run the track in Piazza del Campo to test individual horses with a jockey of the owners’ choice.
June 29 & August 13: The Days of the Palio Begin.
- The Tratta (Batterie, or Batteries). 9:00 am. Groups of 5-7 horses are run three times around the Campo to test how they handle the dirt track and sharp turns. Approximately 4-6 batteries (groupings) are conducted. All jockeys wear black-and-white outfits symbolizing Siena’s coat of arms. From this event the contrada captains will choose the final ten horses for the Palio.
- Assignment (Extraction) of the Horses. Around 1:00 pm (this can vary). A dramatic and emotional event in front of Palazzo Pubblico. A drawing (lottery) is held to randomly match each of the ten horses to the ten contrade running in the Palio.
- First Trial (Prova). 7:45 pm July Palio (7:15 pm August). The first of six trials before the Palio, and the first when jockeys and horses wear their contrada racing outfits. The trial proceeds in nearly full Palio conditions: horses emerge from left entrance (inner courtyard) of Palazzo Pubblico at 7:45pm, trot to the starting line (mossa) and race three laps around the Campo. They are still testing their horses (hence the “trials”), however, so it does not matter who “wins”. After a dramatic start, most jockeys pull back and work on various skills.
June 30 & August 14: Second and Third Trials (Prove)
- Second Trial. 9:00 am (July & August). The first morning trial. Please see details above.
- Third Trial. Begins 7:45 pm July Palio (7:15 pm August). Please see details for first trial above.
July 1 & August 15. Fourth and Fifth Trials (Prove)
- Fourth Trial. 9:00 am (July & August). The first morning trial. Please see details above.
- Fifth Trial. The Prova Generale. Begins 7:45 pm July Palio (7:15 pm August). This is the final evening trial, essentially the dress rehearsal for the Palio. Except for the actual Palio race the next day, tonight’s event provides the sense of experiencing full Palio conditions. This is by far the most festive of the trials. Typically it is preceded by an appearance by the carabinieri mounted police which gallop around the track as pre-trial entertainment. (Please see other details for first trial above.)
- Cena della Prova Generale (Dinner of the General Trial). Start time of around 9:00-9:30 pm. Following the Prova Generale (above), all ten contrade running in the Palio hold an elaborate outdoor celebration dinner on this Palio Eve.
July 2 and August 16. The Day of the Palio!
- The Mass of the Jockeys (La Messa del Fantino). 7:45 am. Siena’s archbishop provides a mass for all ten jockeys in the Capella di Piazza (Chapel of the Square) in front of Palazzo Pubblico.
- Provaccia (sixth and last trial). 9:00am. Known as the “bad trial,” contrada members hold less interest in this event because the jockeys need to take care of the horses to prevent injuries. Still a fun event as the final morning trial.
- Blessing (Benediction) of the Horse. 3:30 pm July Palio (3:00 August). The priest of each contrada running in the Palio holds a curious ritual in the contrada chapel (oratorio) to bless the contrada’s horse and jockey prior to the Palio race. When the blessing is concluded, the priest yells “Va, e torna vincitore!” (Go, and come back victorious). A loud contrada cheer usually follows. Back out in the street, the Alfieri (flag bearers) provide one final performance for the contrada before the comparsa (costumed delegation) marches to the Duomo to begin the historical procession (corteo storico) around 4:00 pm.
- The Historical Procession (Corteo Storico). 4:30 pm July Palio (3:50 pm August). The regal, costumed parade, or procession, departs Piazza del Duomo to make its way slowly through the streets to Piazza del Campo. Beforehand, all 17 contrada delegations (comparse) with their Alfieri (flag bearers) arrive in front of the Duomo to perform briefly, before lining up in the provincial building (to the right of the Duomo) for the procession.
- The Palio! Official start time: 7:30 pm July Palio (7:00 pm August). The process leading up to the Palio race is the same as the evening trials, with the clearing and cleaning of the track, contrada captains and city leaders walking to the Judges’ Stand, and finally the entry of the horses onto the track from Palazzo Pubblico. Beforehand, however, the historical procession enters the Campo from the Casato at 5:20 pm (4:50 pm August) and makes its way around the Campo for two hours.