Originally I planned on waking up early to get a taste of the Palio events, but those dam dormitory beds are way too comfortable – not really. At the crack of dawn the horses and jockies were blessed individually next to the Palazzo Publicco. Not sure if there was much of a turnout but it would have been interesting to watch.
It was a scary thought having the final presentation two days from now, so my group met for a couple of hours to continue working on the final installation. Knowing that the crowds were growing each minute made us all eager to get up from the group project and B-line directly to the Campo. We eventually made enough progress where we felt comfortable to call it a day and make our way to the hustle and bustle.
When stepping foot outside onto the street, there were little implications of any crowd type nearby. In my head I imagined the Campo to be nearly empty except for the inner fence perimeter – now that it was only 4pm (the horse race being around 7:30 pm). As we neared the main gate into the Campo we got a sense of the crowd and to my surprise it was very dense within the piazza. Immediately, I was accepting the fact that a fence spot was impossible, but I would do my best to lead through the sitting crowd. Even the gates were packed with people standing at the edge to ensure an upclose spot upon final gate closure.
We all found a gate somewhat permitting of passerbys, so we walked towards it and squeezed through the cluster of people closing it off. Everywhere you step within the shell you need to tiptoe because all those who have been waiting are sitting spread out to secure their territory. Well, I wasn’t going to resort walking towards the center like any passive spectator would have, instead I found a small spot towards the upper section and stood in front of some people sitting. The rest of the group followed and we scrunched together, standing, hoping for some floor area to open up. Eventually people sitting next to us realized we weren’t going to move so they scootched over and provided some space to sit, so we sat and waited . . and waited . . and waited, until of course a canon shot disrupted the silence. Automatically, everyone gasped for air and chuckled with their neighbors about the explosion happening two seconds prior . . idiots – yes I heard it, no need to ask.
It was nearing 6pm and the bleachers were filling up with local contrada members. Groups of about 50 would sit in close proximity with each other and loudly support their contrada – nothing like vocal competition. Hearing the chants from all over truly made the time fly by. The people within my general vicinity all turned around looking up against the nearby building. Surprisingly, the world renown Sting was poking his head out the window – I guess Hollywood has some appreciation for such tradition.
The gates were starting to close and at this time, personal space was lacking very much. Had you been standing next to someone with poor hygiene, you wouldn’t just get a smack of odor in the face, you would simply be wearing it. At this point I was maybe 5 feet away from the fence so with some tip-toe action I was able to get decent pictures of the parade that was commencing. The parade starts at one end and finishes at the other, providing a curved train of people dressed in medieval outfits some on foot with tossing flags, and some on horse.
The parade features all the current contradas in existence including previous contradas that once thrived within the Sienese walls. Needless to say it took a long time for the parade to finally end, but overall it was a great means of energizing the crowd. After the tail end of the parade left the Campo, the carabinieri circled around the track in similar fashion to yesterdays presence. On the last lap they charged full speed around the track, hovering above their horses, thrusting their swords forward.
It was now time for the horses and jockies to made their debut on the track. As they exited the Palazzo Publicco, in a counter-clockwise direction, they passed by their designated contrada bleacher receiving one final good luck chant and pat on the back. Rounding the corner they approached the ropes and the Campo was gradully getting quiet, with people hushing all around. Within a matter of seconds, it was dead silent. Incredibly, in an outdoor space with 35,000+ spectators who were chanting and cheering about a minute ago, were in complete and absolute silence. I was stunned. About fifteen seconds worth of silence ended with the official microphone naming the different contradas for line up. One contrada after another, followed by cheering of each, until all horses with their jockies were lined up for the start. Our professor Jim mentioned to us that its typical for multiple false starts and realigning which, he said can take nearly a half hour until the race actually starts.
After all ten horses were in place, there were cries from the crowds nearby because of the taunting among horses and jockies, meaning there were to be another lining up. This instance reoccured again, and again . . and again, until finally some of the jockies were throwing fists at one another – what meant to be a horserace was manifesting into a contrada battle royale. Eventually the jockies cooled down and again they reset along the ropes. I was only able to retrieve glimpses of all the action, capturing some of it on my camera.
The crowd finally simmered down and all of a sudden, the horses took off. The entire Campo livened with picture taking, waving of flags, loud chants, and of course a little shoving. After the first lap there were two clear leaders among the pack, Tartuca and Civetta (my contrada). Tartuca remained in first with Civetta nearing prior to each turn after lap two. The last lap these two were one behind the other but Tartuca was able to keep the lead and crossed the ropes as the victor.
The canon shot indicating the end of the race and immediately the gates were released and everybody rushed out onto the track. Those within the Tartuca contrada congratulated one another – lots of hugging and jumping for joy. The winning jockey was hoisted onto the shoulders of Tartuca members and several approached and praised him.
So what now? It’s tradition among the winning contrada to march to the Duomo, enter inside, bring the jockey to the alter, have him blessed, and march on outward to feast. At this point our group was split up but Joann and myself stuck together and made our way to the Duomo. We waited alongside for the herd of Tartuca members and then marched into the church with them. Hundreds made their way inward and cheered as loud as possible – ironic how the Duomo was transformed from a quiet place of worship to a house of menacing Italians.
The atmosphere was simply incredible. Never have I experienced such a celebration for, well, anything. In total the horses lap around the Campo three times, the whole race taking less than two minutes. It’s remarkable how short of a sporting event can have such a large celebration. Nonetheless, the celebration continued for some time. I took my share of photos and videos and made my way back towards the Campo.
There was a team of people cleaning up the aftermath of the race, simultaneously restaurants were assembling tables and chairs on the track yet again, bringing in a swarm of festive individuals. Joann and I met up with our long lost group from early in addition to others and we ventured behind the Palazzo Publicco for some Italian cuisine. Great food to cap off a great, eventful day.