The days before the Palio of 2 July 2020
SIENA - PIAZZA DEL CAMPO
SIENA - LA MOSSA
IL BACIO DEL TITTIA
BARBERI AL CANAPE
I DIECI ASSASSINI
GIOCHI DI PALIO
IMPRONTE DI PALIO
CARABINIERI A CAVALLO
IN ALTO LA SCIABOLA
OMBRE DI PALIO
COI PIEDI SUL TUFO
LE CHIARINE D'ARGENTO
VERSO IL CANAPE
LA MAGIA DI SIENA
THE PALIO, THE HEART AND THE SOUL
If somebody asked me to explain to a tourist what the Palio of Siena is, I would probably start by excluding all that the Palio is not meant to be. The first thing I would say is that, even if it beckons tourists from around the world, the Palio is well away from being an attraction for tourists. They watch around incredibly surprised, enraptured and generally unaware of what it could really symbolize a ten horse race where they run around a tuff ring, taking so speedily three rounds which leave them breathless without realizing exactly what is going on.
The Palio goes far beyond a simple carousel, the Palio is much more. The Palio is Siena, the Palio is the soul race, where all that is viscerally inborn in your being comes out through an uncontrollable full-blooded passion. The Palio is an instant and an entire life, it is your heart climbing up to your throat as if it needed to be catapulted out. It is your blood pressure going up, it is losing the sense of the world which surrounds you. It is a glass bubble inflating with colours, sounds, hands oozing emotions and which entails a parallel world suspended in the wait for that white envelope which is taken by the white dressed police officer who shows it to the square by raising his hand and hands it in to the Mossiere (the starter) while thousands of eyes are stuck to him waiting for the response. And then comes the silence.
Such an unreal silence which astonishes even those tourists who are unaware about this magic ritual. Silence. A square crowded with thousands of people, unbelievably silent. So silent that each single voice is hushed by the “shh” which are echoed by the people. You must activate the cell phone vibration not to create a bad impression. Just like if you were at the theatre. This is one of the utmost magic moment when even the sound of the shutter could bother, moments when your hands are sweating so cold that you cannot do anything else but wait, keeping your ear out, the determined voice of the Mossiere who calls the first Barbero (horse) inside the canape (the ropes), followed by the yelling protest of the square.
And then the second, the third, the best positions, up to the rincorsa (the last horse out of the ropes). It starts the jockeys’ dance who give life to a deep muttering while trotting in a small circle behind the mossa (start line), almost reaching out the Casato curve. Some people spur, some other swear. The tension raises and becomes palpable, dense in the air which is full of adrenaline. They get in and out of the canapi (the ropes), one by one, elbowing, seeking exhaustingly the best trajectories, the tension becomes even more feverish, the horses paw the ground willing to start, sweat, excitement, fear. And the breath quickens.
So it comes the perfect moment, a fraction of a second when the rincorsa (the last horse) decides that this is the perfect moment. They start. Dust cloud, the nervous paws of the horses that gallop, they run, they run, first San Martino (the first curve), deep hoofprints on the tuff, ground which lifts, dust cloud again, first Casato (the second curve), a narrow curve, the crowd stands on the bleacher seats, people skip inside the square, shout, spur, some tourists faint because of the heat and they are assisted by Misericordia, they run, they run, second lap, some horses run without the jockey, deep hoofprints on the tuff, the first positions change, second San Martino, they run, ground which lifts again, now it stands the last chance, palpitation, the first watches behind, he pushes the horse and they want the Victory.
Third San Martino, we are nearly there, last straight track, third Casato, the incredulous and screaming contradaioli start jumping out of the bleacher seats, the jockey with his raised nerbo (a kind of whip), palpitation, mortaretto (the fire-cracker which with three bursts announce the Victory of the Palio). Victory! Here we are! Like an overflow river the triumphing people of the winning Contrada rush to grasp the barbero (the horse) to greet him or her, to protect him or her, to hug him or her. Then they start climbing up to the Judge bleacher to take the Cencio (Palio), a “cittino” (a newborn), somebody takes the jockey on his shoulder, they weep tears of joy, hug each other matching the movements as a warm current within the sea of colours of the other Contrada’s flags which honour their race. It’s the rejoicing which starts in Piazza del Campo and goes on until the Church of Provenzano or inside the magnificent Dome, an overflow river which goes on, a whirlwind of emotions, endless joy, sweat, incredulity, tourists who do not know exactly what to do, Sienese proud that bursts in everybody’s chest. Here you have the Palio.
And for me, a true-born Sienese, pleasure and pain of my being, it is a honour living all this, and to observe it so closely and taking photos of it. Fixing tumultuous moments that fly away, knowing the ancestral meaning, telling the story throughout my personal interpretation which is far beyond the simple shutter click of the tourist. I go inside the most intimate rituality of this Sienese celebration, studying and respecting it and understanding its ultimate meaning : the passion! Colours that burst, hard to be controlled emotions above all when you hold a camera in your hands..