Daily Schedule of Palio Events with TOM’S TIPS

AUTHOR’S NOTES: The information below is compiled from a combination of existing sources and personal experiences. Please use this information in conjunction with your other travel planning sources as desired. The Palio and its related events are precisely scheduled as indicated below, though weather or other factors might cause last-minute changes (Trials or even the Palio race can be delayed or cancelled due to significant rain, for instance.) The primary goal here is to help provide some useful information and tips to better inform your experience with Siena’s days of the Palio.

Finally, please be wary and respectful of contrada members and the horses, should you encounter them on the city streets. The Palio is first and foremost an authentic community festival that holds special, and emotional, meaning for the Senese. It is not primarily oriented to tourists or visitors. Please keep a safe and respectful distance from contrada people and events that you might inadvertently encounter. They will appreciate it, and you won’t be suddenly kicked by a wayward steed which doesn’t really want its photo taken as it enters the Campo for a trial.

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.
    • TOM’S TIPS: Early risers can get their first taste of the Palio by watching for free from the unassigned bleachers surrounding the Campo. If you arrive beforehand, you can stay in the Campo center, but you may not be allowed to leave except upon request, until the trials have concluded. Attendance for this is usually light.

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.
    • TOM’S TIPS: Arrive around 8:30 am to obtain good viewing in the center. This attracts a lot of people, though there is plenty of space in the Campo center to sit and relax. Arrive earlier if trying to find a bleacher seat in designated areas (possible charge of around 5 euro). If going into the center, bring hat, pocket snacks, water, comfortable shoes. You will be locked into the center for 1.5 – 2 hours until the event is finished. There are no restrooms in the center.
  • 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.
    • TOM’S TIPS: This begins only after the captains have finalized the ten horses after the tratta held earlier. Arriving around 1:00 pm in the Campo is still often quite early, though it’s wise to not take a chance on missing this important Palio event. A closer view near the stage will be crowded (first come, first serve as usual) but more space available in the Campo further back. Event will not begin until all ten contrade have marched into the Campo (you will hear and see them).
  • 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.
    • TOM’S TIPS: This is a big event, for contrada members and tourists alike. Police may be screening all entrances around the Campo, where they briefly search your bags and liquid containers (look for more rules on signage about what you cannot bring in). There are numerous preliminary preparations before each trial. Lines of police officers begin to slowly clear the track around 6:30pm, followed by a municipal cleanup detail that removes all trash. After this, the center of the Campo is closed; you cannot go in or out of the center. Then the captains and city leaders walk from Palazzo Pubblico to the judges’ stand over the Campo entrance. This all takes some time, so enjoy the atmosphere and be patient. Suggested arrival time: 6:00 pm for decent space in the center (or earlier for designated bleacher seats—visitor bleachers fill up fast).

June 30 & August 14: Second and Third Trials (Prove)

  • Second Trial. 9:00 am (July & August). The first morning trial. Please see details above.
    • TOM’S TIPS: Arrive around 8:30 am for plenty of spots along the barrier in the center if desired. This is much more lightly attended than the evening trials. Prepare for being locked in the center for 1.5 – 2 hours (as with the tratta). See additional details for the first trial 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.
    • TOM’S TIPS: Arrive around 8:30 am for plenty of spots along the barrier in the center if desired. This is much more lightly attended than the evening trials. Prepare for being locked in the center for 1.5 – 2 hours (as with the tratta). See additional details for the first trial 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.)
    • TOM’S TIPS: If there is one trial to experience, this is it. This attracts a big crowd. Police may be screening all entrances around the Campo, where they briefly search your bags and liquid containers (look for more rules on signage about what you cannot bring in). Suggested arrival time of 6:00 if trying to find a spot near the barriers; much earlier (5:00-ish) to find bleacher seats in guest areas if still available (might charge 10-20 euro for these, or more). Otherwise, you are safe arriving around 6:30 pm if you want a more relaxed place in the center away from the barriers. Come prepared for a lengthy evening locked inside the Campo.
  • 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.
    • TOM’S TIPS: Various city streets are closed off (fair warning), and you need pre-purchased tickets to participate in one of the dinners. This is the one contrada event of the year when uninvited guests are most welcome to attend. Tickets can be purchased during the days of the Palio in the evenings (usually after 9:00pm) at the contrada societa’ (clubhouse) or from your contacts from lodging or tour groups. There is no central ticket office. Cost of tickets is usually 45-50 euro per person. The event lasts approximately 3-4 hours. If you manage to acquire tickets, prepare for a long though festive evening, and bring a light coat/sweater for cooler weather.

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.
    • TOM’S TIPS: This is a special contrada event for its members, so visitors attempting to witness a blessing should be highly respectful and remain in the back. Whether visitors are welcome is usually a function of the size of the contrada chapel. Some are very small and do not provide room for many visitors. You are better off finding a contrada that holds its blessing outdoors (such as the Goose, Dragon, and Tower, though perhaps others). When the Panther is running, their church (San Niccolo’ del Carmine) is large enough to allow for visitors as well. Try to avoid wearing colors of the contrada’s rival, if possible.
  • 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.
    • TOM’S TIPS: This is a fun and lesser known event of Palio day, though plenty of tourists do end up viewing the procession’s departure from the Duomo. Suggested time to arrive is around 4:00 pm in July (probably 3:15 August). There is immense congestion on nearby streets as contrade march in from different directions. Please be patient and remain safely away from densely packed crowds or pedestrian “backups”. Usually there are places to sit on the stairs beside the Duomo to watch the procession depart. The procession will make its way down Via del Capitano (main access road to the Duomo) and continue along Via San Pietro. If you want to view the procession from the street (such as along San Pietro), arrive earlier than 4:00pm for decent standing space (or sitting on stairs at the bend in San Pietro).
  • 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.
    • TOM’S TIPS: There is a lot to say, so I will be brief. If you hold tickets to the bleachers, you can arrive near your bleacher area up until around 7:00pm (6:30 August), though you do not want to miss the procession and its pageantry if you have never seen it. It’s also a challenge to be one of the last ones into the bleachers. Earlier is better if you can do it, bringing snacks and water for sustenance. If you intend to watch from the Campo center, you can enter (free of charge) until roughly 6:00pm (the cutoff may be earlier or later). After approximately 5:00pm (4:30 August, around when the historical procession enters the Campo), you can only enter the Campo center from Via Giovanni Dupre’. This is the narrow street just to the right of City Hall (Palazzo Pubblico) as one faces it. The massive entry line queues up at Piazza del Mercato, behind Palazzo Pubblico. You will be directed by security personnel into Mercato to line up. When the gate opens into the Campo, the line slowly moves up from Mercato onto Via Dupre’ where they search your bags. Be prepared for a lengthy wait in line, followed by another couple of hours standing in the center (early arrivals can often sit on the ground for a while). When the Campo reaches capacity, they deny further entry. You need sun protection, snacks, and water. There are three water/snack stands set up in the Campo. Bring cash. Then hang out and enjoy the greatest show on turf! You are witnessing one of the longest continuously running, authentic festivals in Europe.